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Impressions of an arborist student

August 8, 2016

Dear readers of Dokmai Dogma,


The blog still has around 200 readers a day in spite of me nowadays working in Sweden. At present I teach about trees in the temperate zone which is why I have not added any new blogs to Dokmai Dogma. However, below are the personal impressions by a student of mine, who spent a few weeks in July at Dokmai Garden.

Cheers, Eric Danell


The thought about an apprenticeship abroad was planted by Dr. Eric Danell, who all of you know from earlier blogs. It was more or less one of the first things he brought up when we started our eduction to become arborists late August 2015. At Hvilan Utbildning AB in Sweden, where he is teaching nowadays and I am being educated, he mentioned the possibility to gain experience in a more exotic environment, more precisely: Dokmai Garden. I was totally surprised about me being the only one in my class actually flagging for having interest in the idea. Now I am looking back at a very giving experience. I mean, where do you have the possibility to work with so many different species? When will you have the possibility to do whatever you feel makes most sense? Sure, there were some challenges as well. I was offered housing in the traditional home of a beautiful Thai couple, but they did not speak English. Furthermore, physical labour in this climate is something you will have to get used to and work pace needs to be reduced substantially. You will have to drink liters of extra water during the day. Aggressive tree-ants will take any possibility they get to make your life miserable and so do mosquitos and other insects. However, you get used to all this rather soon, surprisingly enough.

The first thing you will notice when you walk around at Dokmai Garden is that all has been very well made. This is a place in which people invested without compromising on quality. The entrance with a spacious parking lot, the beautiful gates, the conference building, facilities for personal hygiene. The garden itself is an interesting collection of species that are asking to be touched. I mean: the garden is rather young, as much of the vegetation was planted only around 2009. The fact that over here all grows quite a bit faster than back in Sweden makes that there is an even stronger need for young trees to be trained. With a pruning saw and pruner to be preferred over machete, if I may choose. I was offered quite some suggestions about what I could do during my almost 3 week stay, but soon found that I would never be able to tick all the boxes. During the first days I lost myself in the teak and longan plantation, deadwooding and training each individual tree in this part of the garden. And as I thought it would be a great idea to work as efficiently as possible I simply continued pruning until I was completely done, after which I soon found that pulling branches more than one full day is actually far less fun, especially in this climate.

From then on I initiated smaller projects that I completely finished before moving on. 1 project being one tree, or a smaller group of trees. I did climb at the garden, but in many cases climbing simply is impossible due to tree-ants that will attack you altogether if they get a chance. Their bite is not dangerous, just painful. Though: I did find that climbing a Samanea saman (Rain tree) is at least as challenging as climbing an oak, as it has such a wide canopy, with the distinction that you feel far less certain about durability of branches when climbing unfamiliar tree species. But you take the opportunity you get to do some climbing and on the beautiful small sign next to the Gmelina arborea (Snapdragon tree) I read that durability of its wood is strong. I was taught that in Hopea odorata a dangerous female spirit is living that will haunt you if you would fell this species without monks having taken precautions. You can imagine I pruned this one with extra care! Furthermore, I promised myself to marry the one who smells like blossoming Plumeria obtusa everyday of the year, despite that fact that this one cannot be referred to as a collector’s item.

To anyone who is a student in arboriculture: can you please promise me to take the opportunity to gain an experience like this when offered?

Text and Photo: Adrian


Characteristic bark of Bombax ceiba.


Male flowers of Hura crepitans.


Red sap of the durable native timber tree Pterocarpus macrocarpus.


Not my friends…(red weaver ants).

11 Comments leave one →
  1. August 8, 2016 4:16 PM

    Good to hear the garden is doing well…..

  2. Corien Schuurmans permalink
    August 8, 2016 4:27 PM

    Thank you for this update! Glad to hear about this journey! I do hope more will follow.

  3. Joakim permalink
    August 8, 2016 4:30 PM

    Your blog is still one of the best English ones when it comes to Thai plants.

  4. Mac Prahin permalink
    August 8, 2016 9:22 PM

    Always eager to have dockmaidogma’s news

  5. Nora Orito permalink
    August 9, 2016 11:06 AM

    A good read. Nice to hear from you again.

    Nora Orito

    Sent from my iPad


  6. Annelie hendriks permalink
    August 9, 2016 9:49 PM

    Can you still visit Dokmai Garden? I thought it was closed. Are there still tours. That was so great in the past. Annelie

    • August 18, 2016 2:46 PM

      Dear Annelie and Manus,

      We certainly miss our friends in Chiang Mai. Yes, the garden is still closed. Adrian spent time there as a student, being supervised by me from overseas.

      Cheers, Eric

  7. John Schorr permalink
    August 10, 2016 9:57 PM

    Great opportunity for students. Hope many more take advantage of it. Dokmai Garden is truly a special place.

  8. James Archer permalink
    August 15, 2016 6:06 PM

    I was surprised to get this. Very interesting. I wonder if he had the opportunity to eat tree ant pupae. Very tasty. Tree ant bites are painful, but the pain is short-lived. In southern Laos back in 1966 they put tree ants in the Som Tam for that extra spicy tang.

  9. Nilesh permalink
    October 16, 2016 7:06 PM

    I am interested in the flora around Chiang Mai and I have successfully ID’d a lot of the plants and trees I have encountered. I don’t expect to ever know them all. But there are some trees in particular that I would really like to be certain about. I was thinking to contact one of the botanists at QSBG but I do not have their emails.
    You do not need to be concerned that I would inconvenience them becasue I would not simply send them photographs and ask them for an ID. First of all I would explain my interest and then ask if they would be willing to take a look at pictures I would send them occassionally. I would only send pictures after they had agreed to look at them.

    Can you give me some contacts at QSBG? Or ask them to contact me?

    Or could I even send the pictures to you Eric?

    Then again, maybe there is someone at Dokmai Garden who would know?

    And .. I’ve heard about the book “Field Guide to the Forest Trees of Northern Thailand” – perhaps you know of some institute, library or research station where I can consult this book in Chiang Mai? Just for a few hours intitially.

    Thanking you in advance.

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