Queen Sirikit Botanic Gardens
Since the dark ages, plants have been closely associated with the evolution of man. Today they continue to provide great benefit to mankind both in the form of food and medicines. A wide variety other types of plants are useful in many other forms such as dwellings, clothing and even superstitious symbolism. The egg plant and Bermuda grass, for example, symbolise academic growth, while the leaf of the blumea is used to repel spirits.
As Thailand is located in the tropical zone, it has a large diversity of botanical species, especially vascular plants of which there are more than 15,000 different varieties. Among them are important economic plants as 1 well as plants which have specific medicinal properties. Some plants are native to this region and are extremely rare. A large number of other plants have never been subjected to serious studies, categorised or analysed for their beneficial properties. At a time when the world is facing severe environmental deterioration, the threat of extinction of forest resources is becoming more and more of a reality and if plants are not studied and preserved, several hundreds, even thousands of species will disappear completely. There may come a time when mankind no longer realises that certain types of plants actually grew in abundance on this earth of ours.
It was for reasons such as these that in 1991 the Committee for Thai Diversity proposed the establishment of a genuine botanical garden where different types of flora, in particular native and endangered or rare species, could be collected, studied and propagated. At the same time, training programmes and promotion would be given so that the nation’s valuable natural resources couId be preserved. The Botanical Gardens Authority was thus established. In the initial stages, the Royal Forestry Department and the Ministry of Science and Technology surveyed different regions of the country to find a suitable area for the establishment of the Botanical Garden. Eventually they chose a site adjacent to the Doi Suthep-Doi Pui National Park in Mae Rim District, Chiang Mai. The area is rich with natural forests maintains year round humdity and is made up of rolling hills and valleys. As the height above sea level ranges from 550 metres to 1,270 metres the types of existing forests vary from deciduous to semi-evergreen and evergreen. The area is also the source of many brooks and creeks which join to form the Mae Sa Stream, the main water source which has a year round flow.
This site was chosen for various reasons such as the ideal topographical coniditions and rich diversity of flora found in the area plus the fact that the park can serve as a distribution centre for flora from Southeast Asian countries such as Burma, Southern China, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The area also has important historical significance. The first research on Thai flora began in this region at the instigation of botanist Dr. A. F. G. Kerr. The area has the potential to serve as a collection and conservation centre for both native and non-native species. Furthermore, the site is only 27 km from Chiang Mai on the Mae Rim-Samoeng Road, which is already a popular tourist route. Its accessibility to community areas makes it convenient for school children, students, members of the public and tourists who wish to conduct studies or research. The site was upgraded and developed and became the first Botanical Gardens in Thailand to meet international standards.
Her Majesty Queen Sirikit has always shown that her concern for the happiness of the people of the nation also extends to the conservation of nature which she sees as being important to life. In 1994, the Botanical Gardens Authority were given permission to name the gardens after Her Majesty and the Garden became known as Queen Sirikit Botanic Garden.
The Botanical Gardens cover a total area of 6,000 rai (2,500 acres) and serve as a centre where native species, as well as species from countries in Southeast Asia, are collected. The lay out of the gardens follow international designs and are arranged into flowering trees, shrubs, creepers, palms, bamboo, rattan and biennials. These are divided into groups according to variety and species to bring greater beauty to the park and provide convenience for study. Each plant is affixed with a sign giving the Thai name and the botanical name of the plant plus a small metal disc engraved with a code number which can be referred to for information on flowers, fruits or other parts of the plant. Outside the natural season of the plant, students are able to get information on the plant by studying dried species which are stored in the herbarium.
Dried samples of plant species collected from all over the country, especially the northern and northeastern regions, are stored in the herbarium so that they can be studied for classification and data obtained for future research. Visitors are able to study the different features of each type of plant at any time even though it may not correspond with the natural season of the plant.
Other interesting features at the Botanical Gardens include a botanical museum, an orchidarium where more than 400 species of orchids found in Thailand are grown, a greenhouse where varieties of plants not easily grown in Northern Thai conditions are cultivated, and a closed greenhouse for plant species which require special attention such as temperate climate plants from foreign countries.
Apart from providing information to the general public, the Botanical Gardens also conducts specific research on cultivation, nurturing, planting and tissue culture as well as plant taxonomy, ethnobotany and plant ecology. This research covers decorative plants, medicinal plants, dye yielding plants and energy yielding plants. Research is carried out by both Botanical Garden staff and students from educational institutions who are permitted to make use of the tools and equipment in the different rooms as well as the data stored in the library.
People interested in utilising the services of the Botanical Gardens are welcome at all times. At the 12 km marker is a large concrete sign on the left hand side of the road identifying the Botanical Gardens. Crossing the bridge you will see beautifully landscaped flower gardens which welcome visitors to the garden of knowledge. A bit further on is the information centre which provides information and gives advice on touring the Gardens.
If you plan to visit the many tourist attractions scattered along both sides of the lushly forested Mae Rim-Samoeng Road you should not miss the opportunity to drop in and admire the beautiful natural surroundings of the Botanical Gardens situated at the 12 km marker just 2 km on from the Mae Sa Elephant Camp.
Special thanks to Dr. Wirachia na Nakhon, Director of the Queen Sirikit Botanic Gardens, and staff for sharing their knowledge and providing information.