On this hike we passed through three parts of Doi Pui/Doi Suthep: hill evergreen forest, “developed” areas (the Hmong village, the National Park headquarters and the coffee plantation) and then from around the 5-way junction down to Wat Doi Suthep, we passed through evergreen deciduous forest, where some (but not all) of the trees lose their leaves during the Thai summer.   

The first half of the hike was fairly high up, from about 1400 meters down to about 1200 meters. This is a relatively cool part of the mountain where many plants grow (or are grown) that are familiar to people from Northern latitudes. And there are also tropical highland plants that need cooler highland temperatures (like coffee).   

Developed Areas:    

At the Doi Pui National Park headquarters, around the CMU Coffee farm and Baan Khun Chang Kian village there were a number of interesting species introduced species.     

CMU Coffee Plantation

CMU Coffee Plantation

Besides the many coffee trees, there were a number of Persimmon trees (Dispyros kaki) along the trail at the coffee farm. Although D. kaki is native to NE Asia, it is one of many temperate fruit trees grow in Thailand at higher elevations. Dispyros is a genus with about 500 species found in both the New and Old Worlds. About a dozen of these have edible fruits. These trees are in the ebony family (Ebenaceae) and so many are also well known and valued for their hard wood. 

The Hmong Village also had a couple of “exotic” conifers. One was the Himalayan Cypress, Cupressus tortulosa. The Himalayan Cypress, is generally found at higher elevations of 1800-3000 meters in the Himalaya mountains from Pakistan to Bhutan and Southern China. In Thailand, it has been introduced into lower areas and can be seen at various locations on Doi Suthep/Doi Pui. It’s easy to spot from its scaly needles and small, hard round scale-covered fruits.   

Norfolk Island Pine

Norfolk Island Pine

The other conifer we saw at the Hmong village was the Norfolk Island Pine (Araucaria heterophylla). There are 13 Araucaria species found around the Pacific in Australia and South America, and a few Pacific islands. The best stands of Araucaria are in Patagonia, where they must have been for quite a while, since you can buy fossil Araucaria cones on the Internet from the Jurassic (there’s a nice one for sale at Christie’s for about 3000 Euros).      

The Norfolk Island Pine, is, of course, native to Norfolk Island, which lies between New Zealand and New Caledonia in the South Pacific. This pine is the most famous thing about Norfolk Island (it’s even on the N.I. flag). After their discovery in the late 18th century by Captain Cook, it was hoped their tall, straight trunks could be used in shipbuilding as a replacement for oaks from the former American colonies, but their wood turned out to be too soft for making masts.   

Datura flowers

Datura flowers

Chinese hat flowers

Chinese hat flowers

There were also some nice flowers planted in the village such as orange Datura and red Chinese Hat flowers.   

Hill Evergreen Forest   

Back to the forest: Through much of the higher elevation forest on the hike, on the way to the Hmong village, and around the 5-way junction we passed through forest in which oaks and sometimes pines were fairly common.  For example, we saw a lot of chestnuts (another oak family member) on the ground, which are little balls of needles (Castanopsis armata  and C. tribuloides). The Thais eat these (Mark Crittenden says they’re worth 300B/kilo) and sometimes you can see piles of the needle-covered husks where they have been gathered and shelled. Sometimes we saw acorns from another very local oak species, Lithocarpus sootepensis, whose acorns grown in a clump of 8 or 10 in a row (see fruit basket photo below).  Finally, there is a tall pine tree, Pinus kesiya, called “Son Sam Bai” in Thai (สนสามใบ), meaning 3-needle pine. This species is native to Northern Thailand and fairly common in the hill evergreen forest on top of Doi Pui.    

Another tree species whose fruits we saw a lot of is Schima wallichii, which is a member of the Tea family (Thecaceae). Although it needs some moisture, S. wallichii is found at all elevations on Doi Pui/Doi Suthep. It’s small, round, woody fruits that have a five-way split in the middle are easily recognizable (sometimes you find one with a six-way split, as I did, there’s one in the fruit basket).   

Cyathea chinensis (tree fern)

Cyathea chinensis (tree fern)

We saw two other native hill evergreen species planted together next to the Park headquarters building. First, there was the small tree fern, Cyathea chinensis. They are native to northern Thailand, but that one was planted. Though generally tropical, tree ferns grow in cool, moist highland environments (some grow in New Zealand and other temperate locations, too). While C. chinensis doesn’t get very big (about 4 m), other Cyathea species really are tree-sized, growing up to about 20 meters in height. And although the genus Cyathea “only” goes back about 150 million years to the age of the dinosaurs, tree ferns are very old, dating to the Carboniferious, over 300 million years ago, long before mammals and birds and flowering plants (and so most of the insects we see today) existed. 

Rhododendron lyi

Rhododendron

Planted right next to the tree fern was a pink flowered variety of Rhododendron lyi, which is a shrub native of Northern Thailand. For me, seeing species like Rhodendrons, Oaks, Chestnuts, and Pines is a bit like going on a trip home to Oregon (Douglas Firs would be needed to complete the feeling).    

Mixed Deciduous Forest

On the last leg of the hike, not long after the 5-way junction and until the end of the hike at Wat Doi Suthep, we hiked down a gentle slope from about 1200 meters to about 1000 meters in elevation. At this elevation, the forest changed to an evergreen deciduous forest, meaning it’s a mixture of some of the deciduous dipterocarp species (which lose their leaves in the hot season) and warm climate evergreen species that keep their leaves year round.

One species we saw at both the start of the hike and in the evergreen deciduous forest was Manglietia garrettii, a kind of magnolia, whose pointed, pinecone-like fruits we saw on the ground. When Ans Scholten asked me about this, I guessed it was a kind of custard apple (perhaps better called “dinosaur apples”). Though wrong, this turned out to be close, since custard apples (in Annonaceae), are close relatives of magnolias. Magnolias and dinosaur apples are both in the “Magnolid clade” of early flowering plants. And like the Araucaria, they date back to the Jurassic. In fact, their pinecone-like fruits are considered a primitive trait showing the relatedness of the magnolids to pines, cycads and other gymnosperms.

Dry Fruits from Hike

Dry Fruits from Hike

I also came across a few of the strange, 5-sided fruits of Pterospermum grandiflorum as well as the small round fruits with one or two small bumps on top of Sapindus rarak, which is in Sapindaceae, the family the includes Rambutan, Lychee and Longan [fruit basket]. Oh, before I finished with the trees, this hike passes a magnificent Ficus altissima tree, a kind of strangler fig, in the evergreen deciduous forest.

Ficus altissima (strangler fig)

Ficus altissima (strangler fig)

Ground vegetation

As always, we saw many flowering gingers. On this hike I saw, many examples of Globba wintii,  with its small yellow flowers, and a white-flowered Hedychium or ginger lily early in the hike, and a red club ginger near the end of the hike (Zingiber sp., though not sure which one).  At both the beginning and end of the hike we also saw pink Impatiens flowers. Impatiens are not gingers, but they are very commonly seen on our hikes.

Other ground cover plants included the very primitive, but fairly common spikemoss (Selaginella, it’s not a moss, just called that), and a number of monocots including wild taro (Colocasia esculenta),  Centotheca lappacea, a very bamboo-like grassy ground cover, and a clump of Bulbophyllum bulbs, a kind of orchid (but they weren’t flowering).

Colocasia esculenta (wild taro)

Colocasia esculenta (wild taro)

Animals.

We didn’t see many animals. There were a fair number of butterflies such as the Common Rose and Great Eggfly. At one point in the hike, there were a pair of easy to photograph Red lacewing butterflies (Cethosia biblis), that were very intent on sopping up some mineral rich moisture in the trail.

Red lacewing

Red lacewing

We also passed a dead McClelland’s coral snake (also easy to photograph!), a non-venomous species with a beautiful dark red color and thin black rings.  

McClelland's Coral Snake (non-venomous)

McClelland's Coral Snake (non-venomous)

The hike ended at Wat Doi Suthep, where we were rushed into song taews and headed back to the Arboretum. It turns out that downhill leg of the song taew ride from Wat Doi Suthep to the Zoo, serves as a reasonable Thai substitute for Formula One racing. We did all arrived more or less safely at our destination, with the except of the guy sitting next to me who lost his lunch… 

-gene mesher  6/10/2010 (genemesher@yahoo.com)