A weedy ornamental or an ornamental weed?
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).