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Budding Sindora!

April 27, 2013

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:

Sindora siamensis flowers.April26.2013.72The 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.

Sindora siamensis and Afzelia xylocarpa leaves.72The 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

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 28, 2013 7:53 AM

    Two years ago I visited Nam Cat Tien National Park in the lowlands of southern VietNam north of Ho Chi Minh City. There are singing Gibbons in the forest and many trees familiar to me from Chiang Mai. Giant Dipterocarps, Lagerstroemias and Tetrameles dominate but I had a surprise walking with some students from HCM University when I spotted a very distinctive Sindora pod on the ground and surprised them that I knew it. I looked around for the tree and all I could see were giant Dipterocarps, but then it was my turn to be surprised when I was told the tall straight tree with a great girth was not a Dipterocarp but a Sindora. Not S. siamensis I suspect. I do recommend a visit to Nam Cat Tien National Park.

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