What looks like a fried egg, smells like cheap hospital soap and attracts bees? The answer is oncoba (Oncoba spinosa, Salicaceae, formerly Flacourtiaceae).
Oncoba has become a popular ornamental in Chiang Mai, and is well adapted to our long dry season. During the cool dry season it was deciduous, but when the nights got warmer a week ago it was like pressing a button; so many plants at Dokmai Garden started shooting leaves and making flowers, including oncoba. In the rainy season it can look a bit damaged by hungry insects, but the glorious looks at this moment compensates for anything.
We grow it in full sun at a well drained area near the African desert section. It is native to Arabia and Africa. ‘Oncoba’ is a Latinized form of its Arabic name ‘onkob’. The genus was coined by Linnaeus’ disciple Peter Forsskål in his Flora Aegyptiaco-Arabico from 1775 (pages 103-104). Young fruits are edible and old dry fruits are used as rattles. A Central Thai name is ‘khai dao’.
Other bee magnets at the moment are the flowers of santol and luna fruit. There are many flowers looking like fried eggs. Another one is the native ironwood which has a more royal perfume. It will soon make a second and very rich flush of blossom here at Dokmai Garden.
Text & Photo: Eric Danell