THE NAME OF CHIANG MAI brings several symbols to mind such as elephants, umbrellas, orchids and spas. The overnight explosion of bright colors in the tall trees that takes place at the end of cool season is a symbol of Chiang Mai remembered by old-timers. Anticipating the joy of the beauty of all the blossoming trees makes it a bit easier for us locals to move into the hot season without too much moaning and groaning. The profusion of colors: yellow, purple orange and red. A lost symbol of Chiang Mai could well be two stately trees Ngiew with orange red blossoms and Tong Gwow with yellowish orange blossoms.
Tong Gwow, known as Bastard Teak or Flame of the Forest, is the symbol of the Chiang Mai University with the meaning of beauty, strength and sturdiness. It is a deciduous tree to 15 meter with irregular crown and crooked trunk. The CMU students know when the 5-6 cm. bright yellowish orange blossoms appear, it's finally time to settle down and study because final exams are just around the corner. Full blossoms will appear between January and April. The 4-6 cm. fruit is yellowish brown oblong, often slightly curved, rather thick and woody, densely covered with very short silky hairs, abruptly narrowed at base with persistent calyx, stalky 1.2-2.5 cm. The fruit gives the gum "Bengal Kino". There is one Tong Gwow tree on the premises of the Amari Rincome Hotel for which their stately grill room was at one time named (before being renamed La Gritta a few years ago).
Tong Gwow is a softwood tree which can be used for pond panelling wall due to big shrinkage. Bark is used for diarrhea treatment. Flower is used for fabric dyeing as well as medicine of urinary stimulation and fever relief. Seeds are used for worms relief. Leaf is used for pimple or skin treatment.
More importantly, Tong Gwow is regarded as an auspicious tree that should be planted around the compound. Folk people hope that a bundle of gold will come to them or become rich some how.
(Read "What's that Tree" by American author David Engle for complete details about 300 commonly found blossoming trees in northern Thailand).
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