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How to establish lacquer trees

May 17, 2013

The lacquer tree (Gluta usitata, Anacardiaceae) is amazingly beautiful both in blossom, when fruiting and when making new foliage. Its traditional use as lacquer makes it a historical relic too.

Ever since our beloved lacquer tree was killed by Dendrophthoe parasites we have tried to re-introduce the species at Dokmai Garden. In 2012 I planted a number of seedlings within the garden. Although 2012 had a poor and mostly dry rainy season, I did not foresee any problems, as this tree grows in very arid situations. However, all seedlings died, and I have heard from some other people about problems in transplanting lacquer tree seedlings from pots to plots.

Generally a pot allows controlled germination and protection from intensive sun, excess water, drought, weeds and pests, but some species seem to have such a vulnerable root system that a transplantation from a pot is very difficult.

Throwing out any type of seeds on the ground is of course an option, but many are lost to rodents, birds and weevils. Planting the seeds under the soil surface will provide some protection.

In the case of lacquer seeds, we simply soaked them in water for two days, and waited until the young roots began to emerge to make sure the seeds were viable. Then we selected a sunny and well drained area with sandy soil and dug a shallow (10 cm) hole in the ground and planted the seed just under the soil surface. Based on observations of its natural habitat, no compost is needed, as that may even contribute to a saturated environment resulting in fungal rots. The place should be marked by hammering a plastic rod into the ground (anything wooden will disappear within months due to termites). Continued watering is recommended since you initiated germination, but after the rainy season allow the seedling a drought dormancy to follow the natural cycle.

Gluta usitata.germinating seed.May16.2013A germinating lacquer tree seed after being submerged in water for two days and then left in a moist atmosphere. The root looks like a little red paw grasping for support. Treat it gently!

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Chris Sieber permalink
    May 17, 2013 6:19 PM

    What is the lacquer tree called in Thai? Where can I find the seeds?



    On Fri, May 17, 2013 at 1:01 AM, Dokmai Dogma

    • May 20, 2013 5:02 PM

      The central Thai name is rak yai. I have never seen seeds for sale, you need to pick yourself. Early may in dry dipterocarp forests.

      Good luck!


  2. October 5, 2013 5:57 PM

    This is so interesting thank you. It is such a beautiful seedling.
    I wonder how long it takes to grow until lacquer sap is available? Also where can I find the seeds or small plants near Chiang Mai?

    • October 9, 2013 3:25 PM

      Dear Christopher,

      I have never seen this tree for sale in Chiang Mai as the current garden fashion promotes exotics. At one time we had loads of indigenous species for sale but only a handful of people were interested so we closed that endeavour. Sometimes you might be able to pick up seedlings from the university or governmental forest nurseries but the stock is erratic. Your best option is to collect seeds yourself. Go to the low elevation mountains (400 m) in May and look for the seeds on the ground.

      As to the time needed to establish a tree large enough for sap production I do not know. If planted in a favourable location many trees here reach reproductive age after about four years, but there are also some very slow growers. If planted in the wrong location a tree may spend decades at knee-height.


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