Pat Clifford >

Reporting on the IWGS Symposium 2007,
Pat shares highlights of his -

Asian Adventure - Thailand

by Pat Clifford, Senior Horticulturist, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
 Click images to enlarge


In January 2007 I first learned of the Symposium that the International Waterlily and Water Gardening Society (IWGS) was planning to host in Thailand, and encouraged and supported by my Curator, I decided to seek some funding to help me attend. Thanks to generous bursary awards from The Royal Horticultural Society, The William Steele Trust and with financial and logistical backing from my employers, The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, my dream of attending was within my grasp. With some of my own funds I decided to combine my visit to Thailand with a field trip to China to see the spectacular Lotus Lakes of Yunnan. (See Pat's Lotus Tour of China in WGI ONLINE Journal 2/4.)

Throughout these articles I will refer to lotus in my descriptions and observations; please note that I will be referring to Nelumbo nucifera. This species has a truly huge natural distribution ranging from the Caspian Sea down through India and China to northern Australia. 

Nelumbo nucifera >

The Odyssey Begins

Although I have travelled quite extensively over the years as far as Cuba and Belize most of my travelling has been on holiday, and I don't think I have ever travelled much more than 100 miles alone. With this in mind I was quite apprehensive of what lay ahead. I needn't have worried as, with the help of my Director of Horticulture's Personal Assistant Rachel O'Connor, all my connecting flights were arranged and I arrived in Chiang Mai, Thailand, without a hitch, relaxed and stress free. 

Elephant Conservation Centre, Lampang

Where better to see these beautiful and majestic creatures but in their own natural habitat? Not only are you having a great experience, but you are also contributing to the great cause of saving the elephants. We were treated to a novel welcome when the elephants came into the corral, the front two leading the procession carrying a massive banner welcoming all the IWGS members.

The Centre was founded both for conservation and rehabilitation purposes. Whilst being cared for, the baby elephants are trained in all the skills they need to work in the logging industry. We were given a show of their skills before we went to see them having their afternoon bath in the river. This was much better and more humane than the usual Thai elephant shows where these mighty beasts are reduced to playing soccer and dancing in a tutu.

The Centre has an elephant hospital and world renowned veterinary school which specialises in care and husbandry. One thing that took my breath away was when they showed two of the older elephants creating paintings that were amazing; yes I saw it with my own eyes and it was no trick. The mahout (trainer) dipped the brush in different colours of paint and then placed the brush in the elephant's trunk and it created its own unique masterpiece.

I was so impressed I actually bought one of the paintings for my wife and then spent the whole of the remainder of the trip, including travelling in rural China, guarding it with my life. It is now framed and has pride of place in our kitchen.

Novel welcome

Intelligent elephant | Voila! >

Nong Nooch Tropical Garden

Saturday 21 July we visited Nong Nooch Tropical Garden, situated near the tourist resort of Pattaya, which is approximately a three hour bus ride from Bangkok. This garden is billed as "Paradise on Earth" and I certainly wouldn't disagree -- it has to be has to be seen to be believed.

In 1954 Mrs. Nongnooch Tansacha purchased 600 acres of rolling hills and valleys with the intention of creating a fruit plantation. As fate would have it, during a trip to Europe and the USA, she was so inspired by the world renowned gardens she visited, she decided to turn the fruit plantation into a tropical garden of ornamental flowers and plants.

The garden was opened to the public in 1980 and was named "Suan Nong Nooch" in her honour. The management of the garden was handed over to her son Mr. Kampon Tansacha in 2001. When our party arrived he was only too happy to welcome us with a presentation in the on-site conference suite and give us a guided tour of the garden and its impressive nursery.


As the nursery covered an area of 200 acres much of the tour was by open-top bus. As well as being used for the more usual purposes such as propagation and growing on, much of the nursery site housed the botanical collections of the garden. Here they house the definitive collection of cycads, (every known species) under acres of shade tunnels, and over 1000 different species of palms.

One particular palm to catch my eye was the "Coco de Mer" (Lodoicea maldivica) from the Seychelles, one of the largest seeds in the world, which we have now successfully germinated and have growing at the RBGE in a modified extra long pot due to the nature of the deep roots. In the nursery they had rows of them sprouting from seed, growing in hand-made wooden boxes, ready to be planted out. The eventual goal is to plant as many of the varied nursery collections out in the public gardens as possible, and for this purpose they have just bought 100 acres of adjoining land to cultivate as a botanical garden.

Cycad collection

Coco de Mer seedling

Miniature Versailles 
The 652 acre public garden is set out with tourism in mind, and is in pristine condition and aesthetically breathtaking. They have a miniature Versailles and even a small replica of Stonehenge all set among carefully manicured lawns and tropical glades. Their next main project is to landscape a huge man-made lake. The gardens will also be trying to show many Nymphaea and Nelumbo cultivars, and of course the lake would not be complete without Victoria


The garden, nursery and other facilities employ 1300, and with that volume of manpower and what seemed limitless funding, I suppose anything is possible. It looks like Nong Nooch is on its way to becoming the biggest and most beautiful garden in Southeast Asia.

Staff working under mobile parasols >

Symposium Education Days  
These were held on Thursday 19 July and Friday 20 July in Rajamangkala Hall in Suang Luang Rama IX Public Park, Bangkok. Everyone was honoured that the opening ceremony was attended by royalty, especially in a country where the Royal Family is held in such high regard and treated with great reverence. The official opening took place in the presence of HRH Princess Chulaporn Walailuk, the youngest daughter of King Rama IX in a luxurious conference hall, and was attended by over 400 people. 

The subjects discussed were really diverse, with the common thread of course being aquatic plants and their cultivation. The speakers' topics ranged from "Creating New Nymphaea Hybrids in Thailand and the United States" to "Awakening Thai Lotuses" and "Study on Lotus Production and Marketing" to "Morphology and Anatomy of Nymphaea". It would be difficult to write a detailed account of all the subjects covered so I will write a few briefly about some of the lectures I found particularly enjoyable and informative. 

Extreme Aquatics: Size and Diversity among Wetland Species of Aroids [Araceae]
by Deni Bown

This was one of the presentations which appealed to me straight away. The Glasshouses I look after in Edinburgh contain a vast amount of plants in the family Araceae, including Anthurium, Spathiphyllum, Xanthosoma, Peltandra and Pistia to name only a few. I had of course heard of Deni Bown having owned her book "Aroids - Plants of the Arum Family" for many years.

It was a well presented, in-depth and informative presentation covering three main topics;
1. Taxa well-established in cultivation.
2. New or little-known species with intriguing adaptations to aquatic existence.
3. Invasive species.
Within these topics ecology and ethno-botanical uses were discussed, and the attendees were left with details of special interest groups which they could contact. I will certainly be looking to add to the variety of the aroids we display in our ponds as this will enhance the beauty of our aquatic displays particularly in the winter when the ponds can look a bit empty.

Xanthosoma violaceum

















Study on Lotus Production and Marketing
by Thanomnuan Srihakulang
and Urasa Buatama

This was a presentation based on a survey of local lotus (Nelumbo) farmers in the rural area surrounding Bangkok and highlighted the benefits of this type agriculture over more traditional crops such as rice (Oryza) and maize (Zea). The farmers fell into two groups.
1. Those farming constructed lotus ponds.
2. Those farming natural freshwater swamp.

Almost the entire lotus is of commercial value.
1. The flowers are used in the cut flower industry and most of the flowers are used in Buddhist religious ceremonies. The lotus flowers all year although the yield does drop considerably in the cool season (November - February)
2. The seeds are eaten widely either fresh or dried. Normally the embryo is removed as it can have a bitter taste but the embryos are dried separately and used for medicinal purposes, usually taken in tea as a general tonic.
3. The rhizomes are eaten cooked and sliced. They are high in starch content and in some areas are the staple diet, being more widely eaten than rice.
4. The stamens are also harvested for their medicinal qualities and are specifically used to treat male fertility problems.
5. The leaves are also collected and dried, sold as a versatile wrapping.

The farmers decide which part of the plant they specifically want to harvest and choose a cultivar which has been developed for that purpose. For example there is a cultivar that produces a large yield of rhizomes and will produce 2-3 crops a year. Another cultivar can be grown which produces many beautiful flowers all year round.

The authors of this report are now in consultation with the Thai Agriculture Ministry and have high hopes of seeing a dramatic rise in lotus farming in southern Thailand, and good luck to them.

Lotus seed pods for sale





Lotus: An Alternative Multipurpose Crop for the Southeastern U.S.A.
by Warner Orozco-Obando

Warner was the person I shared a room with, so I was particularly keen to hear this presentation. He is currently doing this research as part of his PhD at Auburn University in Alabama and is working alongside the Department of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology, and of course the local farmers.

The US Black Belt region lies within the south's Gulf coastal plain. It got this name in the 1820's because of its rich dark soil which was particularly suited to growing cotton (Gossypium sp.) For the next 120 years the area flourished and became one of the richest and politically powerful regions in the US.

Due to terrible soil erosion problems and the invasion of the Boll Weevil (Anthomus grandis), by the 1950's the cotton industry collapsed. When this was coupled with the failure of the farmers to diversify and the movement of large numbers of the population to the cities, the area became one of the poorest in the US.

Today the region supports a fairly extensive aquaculture industry utilising 25,000 acres of water, but the area has the potential to use ten times this acreage if the small farmers can be encouraged to try double-cropping, by using their fish ponds to grow vegetables as well.

This is where the lotus comes in; it is an easy-to-grow sturdy aquatic which can be grown as an ornamental or a vegetable. It also has huge potential because of its enormous biomass (16 tons/acre), which could be used as a sink for pesticides and nutrient residues and possibly even as a future fuel.

What they are currently doing at Auburn University is evaluating the growth and development of different varieties to find the best cultivars for growing in the region. The next logical step is for them to set up some commercial trials. Warner with some colleagues has been in discussion with local businessmen and this looks like it could be a possibility for next year. Maybe in the not too distant future the area could have the "sacred lotus" to thank for an upturn in its fortunes.

Warners' drive, optimism and general enthusiasm were just so infectious that this talk was always going to be a huge success and no one was let down.


Asian Adventure - Part 2
Lotus Tour of China 500K Complete
For shorter download
Gallery 1 | Gallery 2 | Gallery 3 | Gallery 4

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