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The overlooked Duck’s foot is in blossom!

April 1, 2012

A peculiar and most ornamental endemic (only found here in northern Thailand, nowhere else in the world) is the duck’s foot (Pterospermum grandiflorum, Sterculiaceae/Malvaceae). It has an ornamental evergreen foliage resembling duck’s feet, church bells or sleeping bats. I am sure that in the future there will be thousands grown in tropical gardens worldwide. Right now it is a jungle curiosity, puzzling even visiting botany professors.

First a background to the somewhat lousy picture below: For two nights I have been soaking Dokmai Garden with water. The quarry of the northern part of the property looks like a crater. I was puzzled why, and it turns out that although we have another pump by another quarry south of us, which according to plan should be used every second day, the gardeners never used it. Since our quarry is drying out, the gardeners restricted the watering, sacrificing most lawns, making it look like Australia. In my head I was jumping up and down of anger because the southern quarry is almost limitless, and somehow the gardeners had the wrong impression the pressure of that pump was too low. So, taking charge of over 100 long-range sprinklers myself I intended to soak the garden, and to use the gardeners to wet the blind corners with hoses. I only slept four hours two nights ago, and I still have a pleasantly aching body, like during my time as a cold war conscript (I was a tank commander).

Yesterday afternoon we kept watering, and then Jann and I discovered to our joy that the duck’s foot was blooming – for the first time in its life. Since it was getting dark I planned this morning’s camera shooting. I noticed three black beetles eating the flowers. My backbone instinct killed them, but in retrospect I wonder if they contribute to the pollination and fruit formation? The rich pollen was clearly spread around, although the beetles looked shiny like a Thai woman. Even if the beetles do not eat the pollen, they may spread it by trampling around, feeding on the petals. Plants may use nectar and pollen, or sex dummies (orchid flowers) to attract insects for their pollination. Of course, there should also be a possibility of offering a meal of tasty and nutritious petals too. Petalophagy!

The flowers of the duck’s foot are white and pleasantly fragrant. With the morning shot clearly designed in my head I set the alarm bell for 06.30. Before hitting the bed there was lightning. Thunder. 13 mm of rain and my precious darlings looked like Ruben after a swim:

However, this is just the onset of blossom and there are hundreds of buds ready to burst. Please come and take pictures! The plant is located in the parking, so you do not even have to buy an entrance ticket to see it. I get bird watchers here on Thursday, and so I shall use their experienced camera fingers too. Another endemic beauty, flaming red, is also in blossom. Life is beautiful!

An additional picture taken the following morning, April 2, 2012.

Text & Photographs: Eric Danell

4 Comments leave one →
  1. April 1, 2012 10:44 AM

    Fascinating article .. very interesting and informative . Thanks

  2. April 1, 2012 1:13 PM

    So much watering : so now I know why it rained last night or did you wash your car?
    Maybe the plant you described should be called “Ducklings Foot” as we also have the tall tree Alstonia scholaris, called Din Bet in the northern language.

    • April 1, 2012 7:35 PM

      He he, yes I thought my hard work in vain was probably the reason for the rain. Well, I got much needed exercise and I could prove to the gardeners the southern pump is perfectly OK. Also, I inventoried all sprinklerheads and valves so we can replace or fix poor ones.

      I think the English name for Alstonia scholaris is cheesewood? An alternative name for duck’s foot could be ‘sleeping bat’?

      Cheers, Eric

  3. April 2, 2012 12:42 PM

    Another interesting comment is that these are the first flower pictures available on internet. There might be pictures without scientific names, but such pictures are of course impossible to find. Two other websites show the leaves, a Canadian site (those pictures were actually taken here at Dokmai Garden, I recognize our wall in the background) and a Russian site.

    There is much more to discover in the nearby jungles!


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