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How does your garden grow?  By Eric Danell, Dokmai Garden


Flowering trees in the cool season

While writing this article we have some droplets of rain (2 mm so far this year) and the temperature was 20°C at 09.30. Within sight I can admire the pink cloud of the foaming Congea tomentosa (Lamiaceae), ‘Pride of Lanna’. This is a handsome and native liana which also blooms in the Chiang Mai jungles now, one of the few plants that does. Another very welcome sight is the splendid orange blossom of ‘ton kwaw’ Butea monosperma (Fabaceae), the Chiang Mai province tree. This is actually 2-3 weeks later than last year’s blossom. Maybe the heavy rains in September-October forced the blooming period forward a bit? Some plants regulate their activities based on changes in day length (photoperiod), some react to temperature, some react to moisture. This tree is not yet in blossom at Dokmai Garden, and yesterday I only saw one tree in bloom in Namprae south of Chiang Mai. Saraca indica (Fabaceae) is still in beautiful orange blossom. As to native orchid flowers I have already blogged about the tarantula leg (Dendrobium senile) and the lion tooth Bulbophyllum lobbii.

These examples are seasonal native monsoon plants. Some plants make flowers almost all year round, such as Ixora spp, Thunbergia laurifolia, Uvaria grandiflora, Tabernaemontana pachysiphon and the South American lilavadee (Plumeria spp).

As to less colourful blossom, there is a massive mango blossom (Mangifera spp. Anacardiaceae) right now. Some trees already produce fruit primordia and their crops should be safe, but later varieties may have a poor crop this year due to this rain. Such rains are not abnormal, we had them during the previous two years too. The mango relative cashew (Anacardium occidentale, Anacardiaceae) also began making their tiny pink flowers now, and to my experience mango rains are bad for the production of cashew apples too.

A really nice flower in blossom now is South American Gliricidia sepium (Fabaceae), ‘mother of coffee’ (there are many). They appear like cherry blossom, pink on naked or near-naked branches, but they are pea flowers. Being crispy and sweet, they are perfect ingredients when making an exotic tropical salad. Unfortunately they almost always sooner or later attract aphids, but in this early stage of blossom the trees are so sweet.

In addition to the flowers, a gardener may consider foliage and sculptural shape of trees. Yesterday we had visitors representing a gardening magazine in Canada, and they said that during their 3 months long trip in Asia, they had seen a beautiful tree in four countries, but nobody had been able to tell them what the tree was. At Dokmai Garden they saw it too: The Polyalthia Longifolia, or Mast Tree. [email protected]

Can you eat waterlily?

Waterlily soup! Photo by Ketsanee Seehamongkol & Eric Danell

To the Thai family Seehamongkol who runs Dokmai Garden in Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, ordinary food and ordinary vegetables is nothing to show or talk about. To our foreign visitors, these daily-life vegetables and recipes are the treasures, hard to find among the tourist traps, and even harder to understand as farmers rarely speak English and so an encounter will remain a mystery to most tourists. Our combination of Thai villagers and a western biologist will ensure the encounter and make sure you understand what you experience. I still get surprises, almost every day, but so information accumulates. Last evening I was served a delicious Thai meal, but Ketsanee had something else, a new dish I had never seen before: ‘kang sai boa’ (water lily stalk soup).

Use the native Thai red water lily with a serrated leaf edge (Nymphaea pubescens syn. N. rubra, Nympheacea, the nomenclature is somewhat confused though). This is a plant entirely different from the Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera, Nelumbonaceae), which has leaves on stalks well above the surface of the water. The leaves of water lilies float on the surface. Lotus seeds and lotus rhizomes are edible too. Ketsanee’s parents used to grow the red water lily in their pond back in Roi-Et in Esan.

This is how you cook it:

1. Peel the outer epidermis of the stalk which is too chewy.

2. Chop the stalk in 3 cm long pieces. Take one handful per serving.

3. Boil in double volume of water until soft.

4. Pound the meat of one mackerel/serving in a mortar.

5. Add the fish, a pinch of sour tamarind pulp or sour tamarind leaves, chili, fish sauce and salt.


Will 2012 be wet or dry?

From visitors to Dokmai Garden and from the Thai family I learnt a Chiang Mai researcher declared on TV that 2012 will be as wet as 2011. This year (2011) was ‘the wettest year in 50 years’ (a saying or a fact, I do not know, based on measurements the wettest year during my short experience 2006-2011). Being well aware of how information can be distorted by media I asked what he actually said, what he based this statement on, but nobody remembered but the horrific core of the news: another year of flooding.

Since the variation in the Chiang Mai precipitation is largely due to the temperature oscillations in the Pacific Ocean, temperature measurements in various places of the ocean can fairly well predict the trend, although not in detail. One source of such scientific information is the Climate Prediction Center. According to them, it seems we are heading for a neutral 2012, but we need to keep checking the measurements on this website because different computer models give different results.

So what did the CMU researcher actually say which scared visitors and my family? Maybe he just spoke of the general trend over the coming few years, i.e. global warming in general may lead to more precipitation in our area (northern Thailand).

What is the cause of the current global warming? TV tells us it is carbon dioxide but different scientists have different opinions. As seen from above the computer models can not agree how the weather of the Pacific will be four months from now, and so creating a computer model explaining the global climate 6000 years ago (a period hotter than today) may also be somewhat unreliable. Different algorithms based on anything from carbon dioxide to lunar gravitation cycles all seem to explain the past, but when used to make predictions, the models are sometimes inaccurate. It is likely that the variation in Earth’s movements (many different types), solar variation (many different types) and volcanic activity occur independently and may affect Earth’s climate in a simultaneous and chaotic way, also resulting in cascade effects such as altering cloud patterns, wind patterns, albedo, oceanic streams and vegetation which in turn also will influence the climate, altogether making computer modeling very difficult.

A concise weather summary at Dokmai Garden, Chiang Mai:

2006. Unusually wet year.

2007. Neutral year. At the end emerging La Niņa, cold oceanic phase.

2008. Unusually wet year. The rainy season ended after the first week in November. La Niņa, cold oceanic phase.

2009. The driest year in 70 years. El Niņo, warm oceanic phase.

2010. Delayed rainy season (as an effect of El Niņo), terribly wet end (August – September) and emerging La Niņa.

2011. Cold and unusually rainy.

2012. ? [email protected].