“ChiangMai Urban Landscape Model.”   *

ChiangMai's Entrance in Transformation

Over the long history of the development of the Earth countless species of living things have evolved. As a result of this evolution, and given its fortunate geographical position, Thailand has some of the greatest diversity of plant life on Earth. For example there are more species of orchids and also of the ginger family in Thailand than in any other country. The orchids and the gingers, both with their fantastic beauty and variety, however, do not live in isolation. They are plants of the forest, one growing mostly on the branches of trees, the other in the shade beneath them.

The trees of our country also show great variation in appearance, form and mode of living, with over 1000 species recorded in the north. Yet for those of us growing up the fertile plains of the valleys, and in the towns and cities, this may come as a surprise. When we look around we see mostly a few varieties of economic trees and of ornamental trees planted for shade and color. Most of the latter either come from distant continents, from Africa, Australia or America or if from Thailand from distant provinces.

As a result, our society is so losing touch with the natural world, that we have come to regard living trees as if they were inanimate pieces of furniture, perhaps at times also beautiful, but never-the-less just objects of utility to be shuffled around at will or cut or destroyed. So it is little wonder that we tend to shrug off news that a swathe of trees has gone for a road widening, or that yet another damaging fire sweeps through the forest destroying natural regeneration.

With this attitude we stand to lose much of our natural heritage and what makes the place where we live unique.

To counter this we propose here in Chiang Mai we develop a program to reverse this trend and to bring our community, and especially the younger generation, back in touch with nature, and in particular the natural heritage of Chiang Mai.

So here in the city, near our river the Mae Ping we are beginning to replant the trees which grew here in ancient times as an early step in the development of the ChiangMai Urban Landscape Model.

Rather than planting trees in the tradition of feudal Europe, evenly spaced and one species, the model copied by the roads department, our model aims to be true to the natural heritage of the place we plant.

Shady Shorea Soi

This means selecting trees native to the location and its natural diversity, and attempting to restore this diversity in our parks and gardens. Similarly along the roads and lanes of the town we prefer a mix to reduce the problems of loss and disease which can result where only one species is planted.

So for example near the river we are guided by remnants of the ancient forests and by a study of similar riverine environments.

Mae Hia Nai Forest

Mae Hia Nai Forest

We find Hopea odorata growing at the Forest Office, Holoptelea integrifolia (Thai names here) , Drypetes roxburghii at the McKean Rehabilitation Center, while Anogeissis accuminata grows both in a riverside cemetery, and with Aphanamixis polystachia and Dipterocarpus turbinatus on the banks of the Nan River and tributaries of the Ping.

Further from the river and streams species such as Shorea roxburghii and Irvingia malayana and others become prominent until one reaches the Tectona grandis – Teak zone at the edge of Doi Suthep.

Along with the issue of selecting the right trees for the right place comes that of their placing and management. As almost all of our local trees have an erect habit growing them near, power lines and large buildings need not pose a problem so long as any pruning is restricted to lateral branches and the tops of the trees are allowed to soar and the root zone is protected from undue disturbance. This means guidelines for tree planting and maintenance are an essential element of a ChiangMai Urban Landscape Model, along with training programs for utility and garden workers and managers.

As originators of this concept BIG Tree in Town and Gum Hak Doi Suthep welcome community involvement in developing a working model uniquely suited to Chiang Mai.


*  Lead photo – As one enters Chiang Mai from the Narawat bridge over the Ping River on the left in front of the Governor’s Residence is a green space laid out in the style of Baroque Europe. There is but a handful of trees with a clump of exotic deciduous Delonix regia providing a patch of shade. In the heat of the afternoon one sometimes sees an occasional tourist taking refuge there. Elsewhere all is hot and avoided. In ancient times one might have found 30 large trees providing cool shade in such a fertile spot.

This photo shows stakes laid out in preparation for a community planting event for Thai Environment Day 4th December 2014 at 8:00 am.