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Budding star apple

August 24, 2012

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:

Green turns…

…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

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Brad permalink
    August 24, 2012 9:38 PM

    in regards to # 4 . Have not noticed this particular species as of yet but will keep an eye out. I have however recently noticed a number of new birds in the yard, including a magnificent bright blue kingfisher. Maybe it’s the brown rice I have been sprinkling about.
    Your International neighbor.

    • August 24, 2012 10:15 PM

      That is great! The white-throated kingfisher has indeed become much more common over the years, littering the ground with fantastic feathers.

  2. August 25, 2012 4:14 PM

    We grew a small star apple tree in our conservatory in northern France, from a seed we saved in Chiang Mai. Last winter, we asked some friends to foster it while we were away, but sad to say, they managed to kill it. Perhaps we should have brought it back to Chiang Mai.

    I rather like the flavour of very ripe star apples, but they are quite hard to come by in the market. A sauce of star apple and ginger sounds intriguing. Did your friend say what it was served with, Eric? I imagine it would complement pork very well.

  3. John Hobday permalink
    August 25, 2012 10:58 PM

    On numerous occasions I have seen small flocks of Blue Magpies in the dry dipterocarp forest on the lower slopes of Doi Suthep. Three of these birds used to regularly visit my garden but I have not seen them recently. My house is close to the new convention centre and there is a tree corridor to the mountain.

    John Hobday

    • August 26, 2012 8:36 AM

      Thanks John – did you ever see the blue magpies forage or nest?

      Cheers, Eric

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