On the forest floor right now.
I have updated the blog announcing the excursion to collect fruits of Thai dwarf date palms. Pictures of the palm and its immature fruits are now available there. In addition to palms there were interesting seeds on the ground, and exciting orchids in the trees:
Litter in a typical dry dipterocarp-oak forest south of Chiang Mai in April. Seeds from left to right: Dipterocarpus tuberculatus, D. obtusifolius, Butea monosperma, Shorea siamensis, Shorea obtusa and Gluta usitata. The leaf with a serrated edge towards the second half is an oak leaf, Quercus brandisiana and its fruits can be seen below it. Partly covered by the oak leaf is a white circular fruit of ‘ton pradu’ Pterocarpus macrocarpus. The leaf to the right is that of D. obtusifolius. The red structure on top is one half of the woody bean pod of the famous hardwood ‘mai dhaeng’ (Xylia xylocarpa). The white tuft almost in the centre is a senescing Kaempferia rotunda flower. They were in gorgeous condition when the ascent began at 08 a.m., reminding me of Crocus although Kaempferia is a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae). This slightly arranged picture was taken around 11 a.m. The temperature rose from 24 °C at 06.30 to 34 °C at noon when I was back for lunch at Dokmai Garden again.
The litter is fresh, as the old litter was burnt recently, exposing the charred remnants of wood and the slippery laterite gravel. There is hardly no soil, but a gradient from lateritic rock to more porous lateritic particles of various sizes. The ascent was like walking on marbles uphill. The typical red laterite soil can be found in the valley at the foot of the hill.
The annual but illegal man-made fires threaten health and biodiversity and sometimes even kills old experienced forest inhabitants. This was a healthy Phoenix loureiroi date palm for many years. The walking stick, an effective pointer and an essential support in this steep terrain, is 85 cm.
There are not many orchids left after extensive logging. Those that survived until the logging ban in 1989 still have to face the danger of annual illegal fires.
This group of Dendrobium pulchellum orchids have survived until somebody chops down this oak tree, Quercus brandisiana (Fagaceae). The orchid is healthy and reproduces, making two fruits. I saw D. secundum and D. draconis in bloom too, only one specimen of each orchid species during the entire excursion. Bulbophyllum, Cleisostoma and Eria orchids were present in oaks and dipterocarps too. Due to these orchids I do not present the exact geographic location.
It seems that if some orchids survive fires, loggers and snatchers for another 20-30 years they should be fine. The educated and well-paid children of today’s farmers would never waste their time on such a difficult ascent to get some wood. The small-scale farms are doomed since the coming generations will not work that hard for so little money, which is good for society, biodiversity and recovery of the forests. If some city people return to their ancestors’ land, it is rather to admire the forests than to exploit them. This is what happened in Sweden, and I believe will happen in Thailand too.
However, changes in economy and politics may constitute new threats. Forests protected by law today might become unprotected tomorrow. In a land of severe corruption, even protection by law is not enough to prevent irreparable damage. An educated population and sound eco-tourism may prevent that.
Text & Photo: Eric Danell