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Wat Sun Pha Sak Worra Au-Rai Tam Ma Ram

April 18, 2013

There is a temple, not far from the Ton Kwain intersection on the south side of Chiang Mai, with a long impressive name, as indicated in this blog title. Ketsanee says she can not translate it. Anyhow, road signs just south of the intersection directs you without problems past rice fields and past a huge chicken factory to a temple with a fantastic man-made woodland. The woodland is 28 rai, slightly larger than our Dokmai Garden (25 rai or 4 ha or 10 acres), and most trees were planted just eleven years ago, spare some old jackfruit trees. What draws special attention is the palm collection, but nothing is labelled. The reason we went there was to get hold of seedlings of the sugar palm Arenga westerhoutii (Arecaceae). We got this advice from Chiang Mai palm collector Khun Vasin.

Arenga westerhoutii.fruits.72

The tennisball-sized fruits are formed in gigantic clusters (up to 3 m), and like its relatives the fishtail palms the clusters contain itchy hairs. The seeds inside these fruits are used in foods and boiled in syrup to make desserts. The Head Monk Phra Ajatpu explained the trees die after fruit formation (or maybe after a couple of fruit seasons) so he was keen to collect seedlings too. Other crops from this tree is a sweet sap for sugar or alcohol, fiber for brushes, leaves for thatching and leaf buds for food. This species grows wild in evergreen lowland monsoon forests of Thailand, India, Burma, Laos, Vietnam, China and Malaysia. It has a taller sister species grown much further south in Thailand, and also in rainforest areas of Malaysia and Indonesia; Arenga pinnata. That species has leaflets arranged in several planes making the leaves look ‘hairy’, while the leaflets of A. westerhoutii are arranged in one plane, making the leaf look flat (see picture).

Both species are often called ‘sugar palm’ in English and ‘lok chit’ in Central Thai language. To follow Tem Smitinand’s book ‘Thai Plant Names’ ‘lok chit’ should more precisely refer to A. pinnata and ‘rang kai’ to A. westerhoutii, which is sometimes called ‘Westerhout’s sugar palm’ in English. The name ‘westerhoutii’ was coined by William Griffith in 1845, possibly referring to Dutch Johan Bartholomew Westerhout, Mayor of Naning in Malacca from 1789, or to another member of this wealthy family. ‘Areng’ is Malayan for ‘palm’, and according to Flora of China the Arenga genus includes 21 species in tropical East Asia and Australia.

Arenga westerhoutii.male flowering buds.72A cluster of male flowering buds just about to burst open. The genders are kept in separate inflorescences in the same tree, with female flowers forming at first high up in the tree, and then other clusters mature downwards with male clusters at eye-level. Such a flower maturation is called basipetal, while the opposite (flower maturation from base to top) is called acropetal.

Arenga westerhoutii seedlings.72The Arenga westerhoutii seedlings look very much like fishtail palms (Caryota sp.) but this childhood resemblance is not strange considering the two genera belong to the same tribe (Caryoteae) of the same subfamily of palms (Coryphoideae). Fruits may emerge after 6-12 years.

Mika fetching sugar palms.17 April.2013.72

Our son Mika (5 years) took careful notes of the seedlings. In spite of the afternoon heat he helped Eric transplant them to larger pots with leaf compost upon our return to Dokmai Garden. The Seedlings will now recover in the moist nursery until the rainy season begins, when we intend to transplant them to a wet and partly shady part of the garden.

Text & Photo: Ketsanee Seehamongkol and Eric Danell

(Precipitation report: the afternoon temperatures reach 35-38°C and we have had no rain for six weeks, not since March 4th. Many deciduous trees such as teak begin to lose their leaves again. The early mornings are lovely and cool, 22-24 °C.)

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