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News from the 16th Flora of Thailand Conference

September 14, 2014

The 16th Flora of Thailand Conference was held at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, earlier this week. The amount of new and important information is quite large, so I have prepared a series of blogs to treat one aspect at a time. If you wish to read the abstracts of the posters and talks then click here! Below is an introductory summary.

Kongkanda and Simpson

Dr Kongkanda Chayamarit from the Forest Herbarium, Bangkok, was dubbed ‘Mother of Thai Flora’ due to her determined leadership to get the manuscripts published. Indeed, during her time as executive editor the publishing rate has increased significantly. To the right is Dr David Simpson, Head of the herbarium at Kew and the host of the conference.

Some short facts about the Flora of Thailand project:

The project aims at listing and describing all wild and naturalized vascular plants in Thailand through a series of publications which can be ordered from the Forest Herbarium. The first issue was published in 1970, and up to date about half of Thailands 12050 vascular plant species have been treated. Dr Kongkanda who is the executive editor declared she set the deadline for the last issue to the year 2021. That means a significant increase in publication speed. Beware that another goal for 2020 is to assess all of Thailands flora to determine which species are endangered. The committee declared at the meeting they will go on with printed editions of the Flora, while the electronic versions, which many of us want, will have to wait.

Another fact is that when a specialist begins exploring a certain plant family, there are often entirely new species described. Dr David Middleton reported that in 2006 there were 161 species of Gesneriaceae known from Thailand, but this year (2014) he had reached 245, including several species new to science. A sad fact is that the forestry cover of Thailand has decreased from 53% in 1960 when the Flora of Thailand project was under planning, to 25% or less in 2014 depending on how you define a forest.

The conference talks were quite diverse, with e.g. honorary lectures by H.R.H. Princess Sirindhorn, historical treatments of the first botanists in Thailand (Arthur Francis George Kerr from Ireland and Carl Kurt Hosseus from Germany, active in the beginning of the 20th century), student and professor presentations on various plant families,  other floras under preparation (Vietnam, Himalaya, Malesia, Indochina), conservation efforts including my own report on the Orchid Ark, lichens, mosses and even physiology.

Sad more or less recent news were the reports of dead botanists such as Christian Puff and Kai Larsen, and bird watcher Tony Ball. We were also surprised to learn about cut funding for botanists worldwide. At Kew Gardens the staff will be cut by 25%, a striking blow for the world’s centre of botanical research. At the Queen Sirikit Botanic Gardens in Chiang Mai the budget for displays has also been cut, and at Copenhagen University orchidologist Dr Henrik Pedersen has been forced to step down 25%, essentially a 25% cut of his salary since a researcher can not work part-time.

princess

H.R.H. Princess Sirindhorn gave a presentation on the historical botanical ties with Great Britain and Denmark, the plant lab established at the Royal Palace, the work on Dipterocarpus alatus from the northeast of Thailand, the school gardens and her own interest in the genus Durio.

Other more positive news were the plans for a worldwide flora on line, a portal accessing information from various sources to present all known plants on Earth, based on the Plant List and eMonocot. Other important web sources are a key to Parmeloid lichens of northern Thailand, Ferns of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia and Palms of Thailand.

The Forest Herbarium has also published a new revised version of the Rosetta Stone Thai Plant Names, and all speakers would receive a copy by mail, but by some reason this book would not be for sale.

A conference is not only a place for sharing results during official presentations, but also a place for brainstorms where people with similar interests can meet and exchange ideas. I sometimes think the most important collaborations and projects begin at pubs, coffee breaks or in washrooms. As to the orchids, this was a rare occasion where many devoted people could meet. The results of our talks and informal chats will be the theme of the next blog.

Eric Danell, grateful to Drs James Wearn and David Simpson for their generous support, and to Mr Vince from Bangkok who let me stay at his beautiful house in Chiswick.

Thaiplantnames

The new revised edition of ‘Thai Plant Names’ was a dear surprise even to members of the Flora of Thailand committee!

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