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Elite plants

May 26, 2014

Plant shopping in Chiang Mai is exciting, but the lack of scientific names and the high risk of buying unhealthy plants or plants unsuitable to the Chiang Mai monsoon climate can sometimes cause irritation. Here in Sweden,  the concept E-plant (elite plant) includes nursery plants with a guarantee:

1. A variety selected for Swedish climate.

2. A variety which has been tested at many Swedish places to give local advice.

3. Local production to ensure the plants are in phase with the current season.

4. Species and variety guaranteed and of course labeled with scientific names.

5. Healthy plants free from viruses and fungi.


Lately, woody e-plants are equipped with a microchip with a number which can be read with a certain device. The number of the chip can be used to look up the individual plant in a database, providing all the necessary information. A lost tag will no longer mean the information is lost. The technique is still novel, and it remains to find out how reliably the information can be read, and if the plant is damaged by the injection of the microchip.

The cost for an e-plant is about 10% higher than for ordinary plants.

Future will show if this is a clever step to ensure high quality, or if this is an unnecessary technology.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell


Sheep for sale!

May 3, 2014

Dokmai Garden has decided to sell the sheep after a seven months experiment. The sheep are perfect in a pen with grass, but wandering about in the precious botanical garden they cause a lot of trouble:

They uproot aluminium signs and bend them, 1200 Baht a piece. It seems green grass is their least preferred feed and so they rather focus on shoots, banana leaves, garbage and chicken feed. They have twice attacked the mirror image of themselves in the glass door of the shop with 15000 Baht in repair costs. The jew Bebe makes loud noises at night irritating the gardeners.

We reject the academic view that sheep are mainly grazers. These sheep are pronounced foragers.

While the mowing problem remains (pollution, costs, time and noise) we have decided to sell the sheep. Anyone with a pen or the intention of breeding sheep is most welcome to give the sheep a home before they turn into meat. Two rams (1 and 2 years old) and one ewe (5 years) remain. If you are interested in buying the flock, kindly leave a message below.

Knight and lion.Svaneholm

Sometimes a simple solution is not all that simple. Maybe the archaic scythe is the solution to the mowing problem? More contemplation is needed….

Songkran in Eslöv

May 3, 2014

During my exile in Sweden I sometimes feel homesick. Luckily there is a Buddhist temple, Wat Sanghabaramee in Eslöv, just half an hour’s drive from my Swedish home. I was invited to participate during the Songkran festivities, and without expectations I paid a visit there. Hundreds of cars jammed the countryside road so nearby fields had to be opened to create more parking lots. Rumour had it the Thai ambassador was inside the temple but it was so packed with people I stayed outside. Indeed I had stepped through a dimension door. The atmosphere was Thai with roaring music, market vendors and loads of delicious Thai food, although not truly spicy.

To my joy a nearby Swedish oak (Quercus robur) was traditionally wrapped with a girdle and offerings made to the tree’s spirit. Oaks (Quercus spp) are not exotic to the Thais. Smitinand lists over 30 indigenous species and many are called ‘ko’ in Thai languages. Unfortunately I never had the time to introduce any to Dokmai Garden, hoping future botanists will fill in that flaw. Quercus brandisiana grows abundantly in the nearby Opkhan national park.

Songkran in Eslöv

Would it be possible to create a northern Thai wooden library?

April 7, 2014

A week ago I took my Swedish arborist students to the library at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Alnarp. The aim was to study the 200 years old wooden library.



Larix sp.


Each of the 217 volumes was made from wood of a special tree species. You open a volume like a book, but it is in fact a wooden box containing dried leaves, fruits, seeds, roots, flowers, charcoal samples, bark, pollen and in some cases glass bottles believed to have contained sap. These volumes are not only artistically designed and skillfully made, but are also of great educational value for learning the woods of various tree species. I believe the reason why such wooden libraries no longer are manufactured is the cost as compared to printed books or internet pictures. Still, all 20 students agreed it would be fantastic if they had access to such a wooden library when they studied dendrology (although we booked a guided presentation we could only admire selected volumes behind glass; the bulk of the collection was kept inside a safe).

When I lived in Chiang Mai I investigated the possibilities numerous times to get hold of wood samples of various common indigenous species. Such wood samples would be of great educational value and could perhaps be sold as high quality souvenirs. Although Dokmai Garden is a neighbour of the most famous antique and carpenter street in Thailand, it was quite hard to get more than a dozen of properly identified wood samples. Teak (Tectona grandis, Lamiaceae) dominates the carpentry industry, and a handful of other domestic species are also used, such as Xylia xylocarpa (Fabaceae). It seems the great skills of past carpenters are largely lost today, a consequence of the extensive clear-cutting which in turn led to the logging ban in 1989, making native woods other than imported teak timber rare in the legal workshops.

Establishing Thai wooden libraries at Thai universities seems urgent due to the rapid loss of experienced craftsmen. The immense confusion caused by the inexact meaning of vernacular names, demands a carpenter walking together with a botanist to the forest to select suitable and properly identified trees.

Creating a complete northern Thai wooden library is almost impossible considering there are over 1100 native tree species just in northern Thailand. However, a summary of 200 representatives would still be most useful. The solution to the financial problem in Europe in the early 1800’s were subscriptions. A subscriber recieved a new volume when it was manufactured. An additional difficulty in the tropics is the threat of termites which may turn any wooden collection into powder, while the European collection we studied has stayed almost intact for 200 years.

In spite of the difficulties, I wish the Thai government could invest in a project to preserve, and display, the Thai carpenter’s knowledge about woods. A museum of woods and forests would be a unique and educational venue bridging flora with handicraft and biodiversity awareness.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell, book lover



Quercus robur

The 16th Flora of Thailand Conference

March 3, 2014

Although Dokmai Garden flourishes, tourism suffers as usual during times of political turbulence and embassy warnings. To keep up the spirits I have been asked to write a blog now and then from my exile here in Sweden.

At present I teach botany in Sweden, but a student of mine will spend a few weeks at Dokmai Garden to train his skills as an arborist. As mentioned before, our gigantic forest mango is in need of a tree surgeon to remove parasitic Dendrophthoe parasites.

Another piece of news is that Kew Gardens in Richmond/London will host the 16th Flora of Thailand Conference. I have been invited to give a talk about Dokmai Garden’s Orchid Ark. If more Orchid Arks appear as a result then I can die in peace. Dokmai Garden’s efforts with the Orchid Ark was recently published (Wearn & Schuiteman 2013: Plant Conservation in Thailand: Dokmai Garden and the Orchid Ark. National History Bulletin of the Siam Society 59(1):5-14).

Other reports from Dokmai Garden is that the weather was surprisingly wet this past cool season and fires unusually obnoxious. At present the hot flowering season has just began. The lambs run around as if they own the place and the experiment to keep sheep for mowing seems to have turned out well.

Here in Sweden we have had an unusually mild winter and a very early spring, so I have experienced a most agreeable transition from the tropics to more northern latitudes. Nature displays spectacular views  everywhere you go!

Dalby ring.72

Dalby Söderskog National park, Sweden.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell

Self-replicating machines

October 14, 2013

John von Neumann explored the theoretical possibilities to construct self-replicating machines. This is not science fiction. At Dokmai Garden we have self-replicating lawn mowers based on the latest cellular nano-technology. The first flock of three is cheaper than one conventional lawn mower and neither batteries nor electrical cords are needed:

Bee Bee and Michael.72Bee-Bee delivered a healthy boy, Michael, on October 4th, 2013.

Fiona and Malee.72Fiona delivered a healthy girl, Malee, on October 9th, 2013.

Other news: Last week we learnt that Dokmai Garden will be included in Lonely Planet’s 2014 Thailand Edition. Noblesse oblige; we work frantically to meet the expectations.

Ketsanee Seehamongkol

Photo: Aree Shettlesworth

New animals

September 15, 2013

1. First of all I wish to report a new bird species at Dokmai Garden: White-rumped Munia. According to literature this is a common bird found in most of Thailand. However, at Dokmai Garden the Scaly-breasted Munia is far more common, nesting everywhere, while the dark chocolate brown White-rumped Munia has never been reported before, in spite of visits by several distinguished ornithologists. We hope this lonely bird was not just passing by. That makes 101 bird species reported from Dokmai Garden.

2. We decided that before we leave for Sweden, we should boost the remaining chicken population with some new genes. We purchased a rooster quite similar to the red jungle fowl (gai pa) from a nearby farm for 200 Baht. It is kept in a chicken dome at the feeding place for ten days just to make friends with our original chicken and the people here before being released.

3. In previous blogs I have mentioned the dream to introduce hair or naked sheep (i.e. non-woolly and more original sheep) to replace the expensive, time consuming, polluting and noisy lawn mowers. The problem was to get hold of such sheep because they are still rare in Thailand. The military north of town keep woolly sheep but they demand frequent shearing which we do not have time for at Dokmai Garden.

Three sheep.Sept.14.2013.72

From left to right: Young Shrek and the more experienced ladies Fiona and Bee-Bee working as a mowing team.

On the 14th we received two Brazilian Santa Inês ewes and a hybrid ram with South African Dorper genes. The ewes will give birth to lambs in about one month’s time. Although the Santa Inês breed is so beautiful with its slick coat, and is well adapted to tropical climate and parasites, we are afraid of inbreeding due to the limited number of individuals in Thailand. A sheep cross would be safer for successful reproduction. After all, mowing is the aim, not pure breeds, and Santa Inês is already a result of crosses including Italian Morada Nova, Italian Bergamasca and Brazilian Crioula. The Dorper is a South African breed, popular in Australia too. Its ancestors are Black headed Persian and Horned Dorset. The Dorper is well adapted to a hot and arid climate and should therefore be a good choice here in Chiang Mai.

An idea for the future is to import Santa Inês sperm  which demands less bureaucracy and costs, but we are migrating to Sweden so I should not get caught too deeply in this project which might be ruined by soi dogs anyhow.

It is estimated that only 10% of the world’s sheep population are hair or fur sheep, and 90% of these occur in Africa. That sheep are rare in Thailand was clear from the crowd of curious villagers encircling the pick-up delivering our sheep. Most villagers have only seen cats, dogs, cows and water buffaloes.

At present the sheep are kept in the former restaurant garden, walking freely to get familiar with people and the area. After about three days we intend to release them into the parking garden but keep their night quarters in the restaurant garden. After that they are ready to graze the main garden. My early observations indicate they eat carpet grass (Axonopus compressus, Poaceae) and sedge (Cyperus leucocephalus, Cyperaceae), but also leaves of bamboo, banana, Wrightia religiosa (Apocynaceae) and Saraca indica (Fabaceae). That means young banana suckers need protection. Unpeeled banana fruits and star fruits were highly appreciated, and so was peeled pineapple. The juicy drupes of the chin of Prometheus (Irvingia malayana, Irvingiaceae) were also appreciated, but the sheep did not swallow the seeds which seem too big for anything but wild boar, elephant and rhino. I tried feeding them the invasive sensitive mimosa (Mimosa pudica, Fabaceae). When I held the bunch in my hand they did not take it, when thrown on the ground they suspiciously tasted some and indeed they swallowed but they walked away before finishing the spiny heap. Tomato fruits and passion fruit were treated in the same way. Our sheep sniffed the leaves of water hyacinth, kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix, Rutaceae) and Mimusops elengi (Sapotaceae) but rejected all. Kaffir lime fruits were not appreciated either.

As night quarters we offer two raised pavilions with rice straw roofs and brick floor, but the first night the sheep preferred sleeping on the bare ground under the Saraca indica tree.

Considering a good Honda mowing machine costs 36000 Baht and demands additional costs for fuel, repair, electric sharpener, additional trimmer, man power and eventually needs to be replaced, three hair sheep with two unborn lambs are cheaper to buy and maintain, and they reproduce rapidly and provide meat and skin. Their mowing is more even and gentle than a rotating blade. Studies show that ladybird populations may decline due to intensive machine mowing but not due to grazing. Since the heavy tropical rains inevitably reshape the landscape a mowing machine sometimes cuts into the undulating soil leaving ugly bare spots. In addition, sheep are cute and add beauty to the landscape while a mowing machine is a necessary evil you stuff away in a shed. A mowing machine at Dokmai Garden may last about five years, a sheep lives 10-15 years.

Tiger, leopard and dhole are extinct in our area and the chance of clouded leopard and Asian golden cat to show up is almost nil. Our only concern are python and stray dogs. The Dokmai Garden fence is 1 km and the sheep night quarter is fenced within the fence, but a defense routine is still necessary. It is almost impossible to prevent access of python but unlike dogs a python would only make one kill. In fact, since dogs are the most abundant medium-sized mammal, it is more likely the python helps us with dog control.

Wild sheep or mouflon (Ovis aries, Bovidae) are native to the arid mountains of western Asia and the Balkan and so sheep are exotic in Thailand. Wild Thai relatives of sheep (subfamily Caprinae) are Southern serow (Capricornis sumatraensis) and Long-tailed goral (Naemorhedus caudaus), both endangered due to hunting. Our initial idea to introduce such species or native deer failed due to lack of interest among governmental institutions. Sheep are still much better than mowers!

Sheep farm.72

Kate and Mika visiting Pong and Kriangkrai at their sheep farm.

Sheep arrival.72

Dokmai Garden’s Khun Densak (right) receives the sheep, delivered by Chiang Mai veterinarian Kriangkrai, his wife Pong and daughter Moki.

Sheep portrait.72

Fiona (front) is the leader of the herd and the one who takes initiative. When I saw them at the farm I had only eyes for the dark brown beauty Bee-Bee in the background, but Fiona turns out to be more funny and we seem to have a connection. However, Bee-Bee is the sweet tooth of the herd, the only one who grunts of joy when a fruit is offered and who would run to get it, often before her companions. Unlike Fiona she would not touch tomato or passion fruit. The adolescent Shrek has not developed his character yet, but I can already tell he is more fond of taking a break than the ladies. He is also more adventurous in feeding from shrubs.

Text & Photo: Eric Danell