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A weedy ornamental or an ornamental weed?

October 27, 2012

Recently a German gentleman walked into the Dokmai Garden orchid hospital. Surrounded by 200 species of native orchid species, he looked around like a radar and suddenly he homed in on a weed growing on the foot path, asking “what is that”?

Most guests come to Dokmai Garden to chat about monsoon gardening, but some come for the birds (we registered two new species yesterday thanks to avid Australian birdwatchers), some to eat, some to look at flowers, some to taste fruits, spices and vegetables but some come only to look at weeds. We have tried to put names on most common species, but like the snakes, weeds come and go. We love all plants and ‘weed’ is a subjective term. When guests ask for their names we feel encouraged to find out, sharing the result with other tropical gardeners.

In the case of this plant, we had to consult Dr Tom Daniel, Curator at the California Academy of Sciences. He is a worldwide specialist on the Acanthaceae family to which this weed belong. The name is ‘Strobilanthes reptans‘ (syn. Hemigraphis reptans). To the home gardener in Chiang Mai it is easily distinguished by its pale blue flowers with five similar lobes, four stamens of two different sizes, purple flowering stem and opposite leaves with violet undersides. According to Flora of China, which Tom co-authored, this species is also grown as an ornamental. There are 400 species in this plant genus, all native to tropical Asia. It differs from another similar genus (Staurogyne with 140 species) by presence of retinacula (small hooks inside the fruit).

Since this species is not listed by Tem Smitinand I do not know of any Thai name. An English name? I am not aware of any, but I shall always think of it as ‘the orchid challenger’.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

(The rechargeable batteries of my 11 years old camera Nikon Coolpix 995 are now retired, which has stunted my blog activities. A new Nikon camera battery is waiting for me at the Airport Plaza so I shall soon be back in the saddle again).

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2012 10:05 AM

    It’s interesting isn’t it, how different people can been honed into such specific groups of plants. In my polytechnic days back in Singapore, I once went out with my supervisor to the local forest to look for orchids. No orchids were in flower and native orchids are rare anyways, and so I didn’t see any. There were other interesting plants to look at, but my supervisor immediately spotted orchids, even though they were sterile. Then I had gone out to the field with some taxonomist, who would instantly spot a genus/family member of a plant group that they were interested in, even if they did not know what it was specifically.

  2. October 27, 2012 6:30 PM

    Ah! That’s another one off my list. Thank you, Eric.

  3. zaq permalink
    September 8, 2014 12:19 PM

    i wonder if you could help me identify a weed i’ve noticed here in thailand?

    here’s a picture i took:

    http://tinypic.com/r/28vdgjt/8

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