Budding star apple
In addition to routine work, development and enjoyment, a gardener may also find pleasure in documentation, hence the Dokmai Dogma which we willingly share with anyone. Now and then one can look back and see how things turned out, and hopefully one can learn from mistakes or share successes.
The Dokmai Garden star apple tree (Chrysophyllum cainito, Sapotaceae) was planted four and a half years ago, and is now budding for the first time. A visiting plant lover from Canada/Hong-Kong explained that making a sauce from star apple fruits mixed with ginger is very successful. I personally find star apple a bit bland, but I am willing to try its culinary uses when the time is ripe. To me, it is a gorgeous ornamental which should be planted so that the wind may play with the leaves; a glossy dark green turning golden in a second when the leaves’ undersides are exposed:
…golden (chrysophyllum means ‘golden leaf’ in Latinized Greek)!
Star apple, in Thailand sometimes called ‘Thai apple’ in English, is native to the West Indies where one name is ‘cainito’, also used by the Portuguese. The Swedish gentleman Linnaeus (1707-1778), who described the species in ‘Species Plantarum’ in 1753, used this West Indian name also for its international scientific name. The Thai name is ‘lok nom’ which means ‘milky sphere-like fruit’. ‘Lok’ can only be used for perfect spheres, so ‘lok thurian’ would be nonsense. Indeed many members of Sapotaceae have a milky sap and inconspicuous flowers.
In retrospect, Star apple is easy to grow in Chiang Mai and can be planted either as a solitary tree or be transformed into a hedge. The fruits were harvested four months later, starting on January 25th 2013!
Other quick notes of interest:
1. Today I planted a seedling of the chocolate mousse tree (Diospyros digyna, Ebenaceae). It has been high on my wanted list. I obtained many seeds but only three germinated and two were uprooted, possibly by hens invading the nursery. I planted my only seedling in full sun in a generous hole filled with sandy soil enriched with some compost. Literature claims it is a very tolerant tree, standing flooding and seasonal droughts, being native to Central America. I put a chicken dome over my darling, although the sky looks promisingly dark. I dedicate this tree to my newborn (well, five months now) daughter Mia.
2. The ice-cream beans (Inga edulis, Fabaceae) have done very poorly. I planted them in many habitats and due to the past drought and the gardeners’ reluctance to irrigate most have died. Only one looks decent enough, and it stays in the shade and nearby a sprinkler. The best specimens are still in the moist and cosy nursery. Maybe this explains why this tree has not been a hit in the dry Chiang Mai valley? I think I will plant another specimen in the ground inside the nursery.
3. When I compare Thai Vanilla siamensis (Orchidaceae) and South American Vanilla planifolia, the Thai species is, not surprisingly, much more drought tolerant. Due to this year’s drought I have moved many South American vanillas into my shower room and to the longan which also carries the flaming Mucuna bennettii (in fantastic blossom now) and the delicious passionfruit.
4. This observation may only be interesting to our immediate neighbours in the Namprae village (it is becoming an international community): yesterday morning I noticed a beautiful bird call I had never heard before, and a second later I saw two large and long-tailed birds with strikingly red bills: blue magpies! This is the first observation ever at Dokmai Garden, although the surrounding habitat seems perfect (dry dipterocarp forest). Please let me know if anyone has seen them before, and if you know if they nest nearby? The call is described by Lekagul as an ‘airy scream’. The bodies may look grey, but the tail and the red bills are good characteristics.
Text & Photo: Eric Danell