Plants

Caladium

Caladium is a genus of the family Araceae, native to South America. In English it is called “Elephant Ear”.

The genus is very near to Xanthosoma, but its pollen is shed as single cells, not in tetrads. The plant has tubers, the flowers are not showy. During the dry season the plant loses its leaves (in Europe and North America: during winter). Their natural habitats are mostly semideciduous forests. They are grown because of their fancy leaves. Literally thousands of leaf varieties exist. The decorative leaves may be partially or totally green, white, pink, or red. They may have contrasting midribs or borders. Flowers are seldom seen with potted plants…

Caladium are humidity and shade lovers, they should be protected from full sun. To grow well they require a warm soil and must be protected from chills.

Many Thai love this plant for its spectacular foliage and grow it in their gardens. In Thai the plant is called บอนสี (pronounced „bornsee“).บอน (“born”) is the name of a group of plants in the family Araceae, like Colocasia, Caladium, and the like, while สี (“see”), the second part of the name, means colour and refers to the coloured leaves. Especially in the last years the plant became very popular. There even exists a whole book on Caladium plants in Thai (เศรษฐมันตร์ กาญจนกุล: ร้อยพรรณพฤกษา บอนสี“). There exists even a “บอนสีAssociation of Thailand”.

Although some Thai claim that Caladium was first brought by Westerners to Siam in the late Ayutthaya period it seems evident that King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) brought many decorative plants he had seen on his journies to Europe in 1901 to Thailand (then Siam), and amongst them there were also specimens of Caladium. The plant was very popular in the years 1927 to 1932, later the Thais gradually lost interest in it. In 1965 new varieties were introduced from the USA, new spectacular varieties were created through hybridization, and the plant again became  popular….

Sugarapple or Sweetsop

This is the fruit of a tree scientifically called Annona squamosa. Annona is a genus of the family Annonacae and native to South America. The word is derived from Tainó language (the Tainós were pre-Columbian natives of the Bahamas and the Antilles), not from Annona, goddess of harvest in Roman mythology.

In Thailand the fruit which can regularly be found on the market has several names. Mostly it is called น้อยหน่า (pronounced “noina”), in the south it is called น้อยแน่ (“noinae”), in northern parts of Thailand we find มะแน่ (“marnae”), and the inhabitants of Pattani call it ละหนัง (“larnung”, prossibly a Yawi word).

The interesting fruit is a syncarp, consisting of many individual fleshy fruits:

In Thailand an extract of the Sweetsop leaves is used against lice and ringworm (ringworm or serpigo is an infection of the skin caused by parasitic fungi). An extract of the roots is said to be effective against snake poison…

Dischidia

When my wife and I were in Krabi (Southern Thailand) last August, we visited a flower shop in order to find some interesting plants…. That shop had indeed an interesting plant to sell, a plant I had not seen before: Dischidia vidalii:

Dischidia is a genus of the family Asclepiadaceae (a Hoya relative) and can be found from tropical East Asia to Australia. The genus was named by R. Brown in 1810. He chose the name because the urn-shaped flowers are split (Greek “dischides” = split). Dischidia plants are mostly epiphytes.

The species we saw is most probably D. vidalii. The flowers are tiny and of red colour. In addition to the normal small leaves there are pouch-shaped or bullate leaves: two opposite leaves are greatly enlarged and fused together, forming a kind of inflating pocket that in free nature harbours ants. In return for providing a home the ants protect the plant. D. vidalii and some related species are myrmecodial. The interior of the mentioned pouches is filled with rootlets of the leaf-axil.

A Spectacular Palm:

Johannessteijsmannia

Johannesteijsmannia is a tropical Southeast Asian palm. It was named after Johannes Elias Teijsmann, a Dutch botanist of the 19th century (1808-1882). He was a curator at the Botanic Garden Buitenzorg in the then Netherlands East Indies (now Bogor in Indonesia). Teijsmann is famous for having introduced, amongst other plants, the oil palm from West Africa, which now plays an important role in Indonesia’s economy.

I found a well developed specimen of this spectacular palm in a big garden in Bangkok (สวนหลวง ร.๙). The palm seems to have no visible trunk, the leaves are undivided, roughly paddle- or diamond-shaped.

In Thai language the palm is officially called „ปาล์มบังสูรย์” (pronounced like “palm bungsoon”). This name was first used by one Prachid Amanond (อาจารย์ประชิด อามานนท์ ) who noticed that the leaves of the palm show a similar shape to the so-called “bungsoon” (บังสูรย์). This is a kind of fan used in royal ceremonies to protect certain people from the sun (“bung/ บัง means “to block, to screen, to cut off from view”, while “soon/สูรย์“ means “sun”).

Another Thai name of the palm, as used in the province of Narathiwat, is “boogohlipaeh” (บูเก๊ะลีแป). This name consists of two words, “boogoh” which in the Yawee language means “mountain” and “lipaeh” which means “centipede”, so this name means “centipede of the mountains”, due to the form of the inflorescence which is said to be similar to a centipede…

There are four species altogether in this genus. All are rare and not endangered, at least in free nature. . It seems strange to me that the palm is named after the person who is responsible for the introduction of the oil palm from West Africa, a palm that is one of the main causes of forest devastation in tropical East Asia which possibly will lead to the extinction of this genus…

Some Thai Fruits

Here I want to present pictures and descriptions of a few special Thai fruits. Nowadays some of these fruit are not easy to find in the market, as they are regarded as old-fashioned and outmoded. Often young Thai people don’t even know the names of these fruit, they don’t eat them any more, instead they prefer apples, oranges, bananas, and other “modern” fruit. But the old Thai people still like them very much and occasionally sell or buy them in the local markets…

1) ลูกหยี (pronounced luke yee“)

These are the fruits of the so-called “velvet tamarind tree”, Dalium indum. In the Yawee language of southern Thailand it is called “Kranyee” (กรันยี), which is related to the Malaysian “Keranji”. It is a rather big tree, belonging to the Leguminosae family. It is native to Malaysia and southern Tailand. I saw some trees that are older than 100 years, they were a least 30 m tall. To bear fruit the tree must be at least 30 years old. The wood of this tree is of dark colour, very hard and compact, so it is much sought after. Continued logging threatens the existence of this tree. It is said that with the continuing loss of its natural habitat this species may be soon on the list of endangered species. In the province of Pattani it can, however, still be seen frequently.

The fruits have a hard shell of black colour, the surface of this shell is densely covered with many short hairs giving the fruit a velvet-like appearance. Each fruit contains a flat seed, about 8 mm long.

The flesh of the ripe fruit can be eaten and tastes (at least to me) good, sweet and sour at the same time… Mostly the fruit is sold as a snack called ลูกหยีฉาบน้ำตาล (pronounced as “luke yee charp num tarn”), which means that the fruit is sugar-coated. Or as ลูกหยีทรงเครื่อง (pronounced „luke yee song kruang“), where the flesh of the fruit is spiced with pepper and/or chili. To produce ลูกหยีกวน (pronounced „luke yee guan“, literally „stirred luke yee fruits“) the flesh of the fruit is heated, and while being heated some sugar and possibly other ingredients are added and the whole mass is constantly stirred. The result is a very tasty pap…

2) ลูกหวาย (pronounced „luke why“)

This is the fruit of a palm. The scientific name of the palm genus is Calamus. Some of the many Calamus species are used to produce rattan furniture (in the 17th century during the Dutch colonial era –Netherlands Indies- rattan furniture became the favourite furniture in Holland).

The fruit is seldom seen in the markets, although it is very delicious. The shell is yellowish, and the fruit contains a single seed. The flesh of the fruit is sweet and tasty.

The tips of the young sprouts ( ยอดอ่อน, pronounced “yord orn”) are also edible and are used for several dishes.

3) มะไฟป่า (pronounced „mar fy par“)

This is the fruit of a large tree (up to 25 m tall) called Baccaurea ramiflora. Baccaurea belongs to the Euphorbiaceae, other sources say it is a member of the Phyllanthaceae. Male and female flowers can be found on the same tree, but are separated and on different parts of the plant.

Different kinds of มะไฟ exist. Some fruits are light yellow, others are greyish white as in the photo given below:

Each fruit contains a single seed. The flesh of the fruit is rather sweet and tasty.

Other parts of the tree (leaves, bark) are used as medicine against skin diseases.

4)  มะดัน (pronounced mar dun)

This is the fruit of a tree scientifically named Garcinia schomburgkiana. Garcinia belongs to the Clusiaceae, sometimes called Guttiferae. There are many species in this genus, 22 of them are native to Thailand. (Another member of the genus is the well known mangosteen, Garcinia mangostana, with sweet and very tasty fruits).

The flowers are of reddish colour, with four petals. The fruits are green, each containing two very long, nearly black seeds. The fruit is edible, but is extremely sour. It can also be used in a sauce of shrimp paste and chili. In Thai ethnomedicine roots and fruits are used as treatment of diabetes and of coughs. They are said to improve the quality of menstrual blood and are used as a laxative (from several internet sources)

CASSYTHA – A Parasitic Plant

Cassytha is a genus of the family Laureaceae. Most species of this genus are found in Australia, but there are also some species found in other tropical regions of the world. All species are parasitic vines. At first glance they look like Cuscuta which is, however, a genus in the family Convolvulaceae. But their flowers are quite different. Cassytha and Cuscuta are striking examples of convergent evolution.

I found the plants on a small island called Koh Libong (เกาะลิบง) in Trang Province, southern Thailand, as well as in Phukettown on Phuket Island (3rd foto)

The Cannon Ball Tree

Its scientific name is Couroupita guianensis. It is one of the most remarkable trees, with wonderful scented flowers of great complexity and fruits in shape and size similar to a cannon ball. The tree which is up to 5 m tall is a native of South America, but can be often found in tropical East Asia where it is often planted on temple ground. In India it is often found near temples related to Shiva, in Thailand it is, however, found near Buddhist Wats.

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