Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pitcher Plants (Nepenthes)

This picture was taken about two years ago. The plant is now much more well established and has gotten to the point it will have to be cut back, as it's almost out of control. So Mam and I are looking forward to some cuttings to try and propagate.

Across the street from us, exists a little commune of sorts, with five families sharing a plot of land just a tad over a half acre. The old lady is the village shaman of sorts and I call her the "Witch Doctor" as she piddles around with herbal medications for many different ills, and makes her own concoctions.

Klong Tong Nรปea Village Shaman The "Witch Doctor"

The witch doctor's house is surrounded by a wonderland jungle full of twisted vines, hanging plants, many rare orchids, a waterfall and tiny stream, several rubber trees, pineapple, jackfruit, a small bamboo stand with huge, ancient bamboo plants ten to twelve inches in girth, and many other exotic, rare plants growing out of pots, decomposed logs, coconut husks, and other handmade containers. I love walking around and looking at the various plants. Inside her house, in contrast, is a less pleasant jungle of haphazardly dumped papers and knickknacks, that boggles the mind.

She is an expert in plant propagation, and has several tools of the trade she carries with her to take cuttings of plants she wants, or to graft trees. She spotted our sour orange tree, and carefully cut several sections of bark, dusted them with a white powder from her kit, bunched a rich compost around them and sealed them off with a plastic bag and wire ties. Several months later she returned and cut the branches off, removing the plastic bags and revealing a tangle of new roots for planting. A genius with plants, who is teaching Mam everything she knows.

These pitcher plants are of the genus Nepenthes. The old lady found them while foraging for plants deep in the jungle off a small stream, growing on the stream bank. She told Mam she carefully separated the plant off from the surrounding vegetation and removed it, taking several days for the process, as she says the plant is rather sensitive to trauma.

Two years ago she gave us a transplanted section she had propagated, but which wasn't doing to well. Mam and I both babied it for months, but it finally succumbed to some sort of disease and died.

Nepenthes is a genus of carnivorous plant that encompasses over 120 species, native to Indonesia, the Philippines, and South-East Asia.

This species of plant has three primary components: the lid, the rim, and the pitcher.

The purpose of the lid is to keep rain water from collecting in the pitcher, and the colorful rim functions as a lure to insects. The plant produces a syrupy liquid in the bottom of the pitcher that attracts, and drowns, potential prey. The walls are coated with a waxy substance, so when an insect slips inside it can’t escape, and the plant has ample time to digest its new meal.

Truly a very exotic, and interesting plant!


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

To begin my new blog about "Weird Plants of Thailand" I submit our Monster Pod.

This large seed pod was discovered late one afternoon as Mam and I were traveling back home from shopping at Mackro in Hat Yai. The vines and heavy folliage growing in and around our Tong river just down the road from our house, is always host to many exotic varieties of plants that get established from seeds floating by, and after flood waters recede.

I noticed something big, which was partially hidden by the vines that stretch some fourteen to sixteen feet high (4.5 to 4.8 meters), growing on an old Ficus tree, and asked Mam to stop. There we found these huge green pods, unlike anything either of us had ever seen.

We cut them off the vine and took them home, hanging them out on the pipe I rigged up for drying blankets.

Several of the local neighbor kids and adults noticed them, while passing by, and all were curious.

"Are they big Sataw?" They wanted to know.

"No, no, I don't think you can eat these." Mam said to our curious on-lookers.

Thai's are sort of like Chinese. They see something knew and immediately want to know, "Can you eat it?"

Sataw is an edible bean popular here in Southern Thailand, often called the Stink Bean as it has a tendency to turn your breath rather rancid after eating them. Mam uses Sataw in stir-fry dishes, as we are surrounded by several Sataw trees, and Mam harvests them free.

Here's a set of pictures of Sataw below.

This bunch was growing just outside our kitchen window.

These mature Sataw or Stink Bean pods are ready for harvest. Difficult to tell here, but these pods, in contrast to our Monster Pods found near the river, are only about a foot and a half in length or 18 inches (45.7 centimeters).

To prepare them, you simply strip the bean open and pluck out the lime colored beans, preparing them in any meal you so chose. Rather tasty I might add!

As with most mysterious plants, I contacted my good friend Normita Thongham, who writes the "Greenfingers" column in the Brunch section of the Bangkok Post Sunday edition newspaper.

Here's what Normita had to say about our Monster Pod...

"Your pod is that of Entada rheedii, or St. Thomas’s bean. In Thai it is known as saba, maba, kam ton or saba-mon, the latter because the Mon people of Burmese origin like to use its big, shiny seeds in a game similar to petanque.

It is a vine usually growing wild in jungles throughout tropical Asia. In fact I’ve seen and played with the seeds when I was a child in the Philippines, but it was only much later, when I was already in Thailand, that I realized they came from enormous pods such as the ones you have."

Once again Normita comes through....I thought I'd have her stumped with this one, but no such luck.

Some of the local kids wanted to know where we found them, but I told Mam not to tell them, as they will probably figure it out in due time anyway, and being kids they will just destroy the vine and strip it of all the seed pods.