Sindora siamensis (Fabaceae, Caesalpinioideae), is a lovely name for a rather common but overlooked tree with a magnificent wood. After six years of waiting the Dokmai Garden saplings now display their first flowering buds ever:
The flowering buds are green and club-like. The buds may resemble flowers with many stigmata, but the hairs are situated on the sepals. The sugary droplets attract ants which may kill pests eating the flowering buds.
The leaf of ‘makha tae’ Sindora siamensis (left) is quite similar to that of its relative ‘makha’ Afzelia xylocarpa (right). Sindora siamensis has longer, leathery, leaflets reminding one of Rhododendron leaves, while Afzelia xylocarpa has thinner, softer and smaller leaves. The bark of a Sindora siamensis sapling is yellowish without clear lenticels, while grey and with many horizontal lenticels in young Afzelia xylocarpa bark.
Although the wood is durable, termite resistant, beautiful and so useful for furniture or even construction, I doubt future carpenters will know much about its qualities. While the tree is still known to Thai lowland farmers, city Thais always look puzzled when I explain this is not ‘makha’, but ‘makha tae’. The circular pods are edible when green, but neither timber nor fruits are the reasons we grow the tree here at Dokmai Garden. We do not grow it to fit it into a landscape design either, we grow it for its own sake, because we love it. To explain we grow some plants not for colour nor for money nor for food is difficult, love is hard to explain. We respect species that grew on Earth before the dawn of man, species that do not need man for its survival, species in which every structure has a meaning; i.e. promoting survival and reproduction, and are not a result of artistic selection.
There are about 18-20 species of Sindora, all from Southeast Asia. Three species occur in Thailand. While Afzelia xylocarpa is well adapted to dry environments, Sindora siamensis prefers it a bit more wet and can sometimes be seen as solitary trees near rice fields, such as in Ketsanee’s hometown Roi-Et. The genus name Sindora was coined by the Dutch-German botanist Friedrich Anton Wilhelm Miquel (1811-1871). It is a Latinized form of ‘Sindur’, an Indonesian name for various Sindora trees. An English name for this particular species could be ‘Siamese Sindora’.
I hope these pictures will intrigue our local readers to look out for it. It probably grows not too far from your house if you live on the Thai countryside. What used to be an anonymous green during a dog-walk, may now stand out as a valuable timber with edible fruits, and her name is Sindora!
Update on May 6th: Flowering Sindora!
Text & Photo: Eric Danell