A Thai pine
Which coniferous Christmas trees are available in Thailand? We have no wild spruces (Picea spp) or noble firs (Abies spp), but there are two species of native pines: yellow pine (Pinus kesiya) with three needles and the uncommon black pine Pinus merkusii (Pinaceae) with two needles. In northern Thai langauge they are often referred to as ‘ki plueak’ or ‘chuang’.
To entertain my children I brought out a potted Pinus kesiya and hung a Christmas garland. The garlands are believed to mimic long Usnea longissima lichens covered in ice crystals, a rare sight in Scandinavia today. Siberia and northern Canada should be the last places to see living Christmas garlands.
The yellow pine does not grow well in the current Chiang Mai valley climate. It has temporarily withdrawn to higher altitudes, beginning around 850 meters and may form forests up to 1200 meters but scattered individuals occur to the highest altitudes. The black pine would thrive better in the valley but it is hard to find.
During the ice age, the Chiang Mai valley was a pine heath, and the frost-sensitive plants of today’s scenery were gathered around the hot equator. Pine forests are good for mushroom hunters, and indeed you find a range of edible mushroom species here in Thailand, such as the delicious horn of plenty Craterellus cornucopioides.
A classic argue is the pronunciation of the international scientific name Pinus. It should be pronounced ‘pee-nos’, not ‘pie-nus’, but American students giggle too much so depending on audience I may adapt to American pronunciation too. I do not feel it is important to argue about pronunciation, but the spelling is important to enable search engines compiling all data about a certain species. I think though that the English do not make an effort in even trying to speak Latin, i.e. the scientific names are pronounced as if they were English.
Indeed, Latin is a dead language so there is no Roman to ask, and older Latin had different pronunciation than younger Latin (at one time all c were pronounced k; ‘Kikero’ the Roman). The scientific Latin is Medieval church Latin, and that is still spoken by Catholic priests, so I guess we should follow them rather than Ovidius.
Text & Photo: Eric Danell