How does your garden grow?
By Eric Danell, Dokmai Garden
The mother of the dragon boat
photograph shows that the flowers are twisted just like in the larger
flowers of its cousin the propeller tree (Dipterocarpus tuberculatus). I
think of the spirals of galaxies. If you look at a leaf’s underside, you
will notice an anatomical characteristic of Hopea odorata; the presence of
pore-like domatia in the vein axils. A domatium (from Latin ‘domus’=house)
is produced by the plant as a shelter for either guardian insects such as
ants, or in this case for pollinating insects such as thrips.
The famous Thai dragon boats are made
of a native tree the Thais call ‘ton takien’ (Hopea odorata,
Dipterocarpaceae). An English trade name for the wood is white thingan. The
tree is in blossom right now at Dokmai Garden, and these are the first
flowers since the seedling was planted six years ago. For anyone interested
in native Thai flowers in general, March-April (the hot and dry season) is
Being a lowland tree and having a valuable timber makes large specimens rare
in Thailand and the IUCN declares it is a vulnerable species. It prefers
evergreen areas and so is favoured by streams and sheltered valleys. Field
observations indicate that fire inhibits regeneration, while research plots
without fire shows a rapid and prolific reproduction. Although most modern
Thai farmers are afraid of the female spirit ‘pi-takien’ they believe
resides in the tree, and which will haunt their house if they use its wood,
most large trees have been logged and exported or used for temple
The scientific name Hopea was coined by the Scottish botanist William
Roxburgh (1751-1815) and encompass 104 Indomalayan species, 13 0f which
occur in Thailand. The genus Hopea was created in memory of another
Scotsman; physician and botanist John Hope (1725-1786). The species Hopea
odorata, named after its honey-fragrant flowers, was first published in
Roxburgh’s book Plants of the Coast of Coromandel, volume 3, page 7 from
1819. An English vernacular name is ‘iron wood’ but that name is very
unprecise and used for a range of similar hardwoods worldwide, including
Hopea ferrea and Mesua ferrea (the Latin word ‘ferrum’ means iron).
Other lovely trees in bloom right now at Dokmai Garden are Mesua ferrea,
Afzelia xylocarpa and Terminalia catappa. www. dokmaigarden.co.th.
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