I had heard a few whispers about a special plant market in Thailand, with people calling it the best plant show of the year. They described rows and rows of tropical plants and sumptuous exotics, not to mention some of the world’s most collectable cacti. I planned to go last time I was ‘in this direction’ (i.e. in Asia), but for some reason it didn’t work out and my flight from China to Thailand went without me in the seat.
But, this year, I got my act together and made a little two-day trip from China to the bustling city of Bangkok. My partner was working, so I would make this trip solo. I pulled together my plans, scanning Google Maps for the best place to stay, and how to get to King Rama IX Park, which is on the outskirts of Bangkok, not far from the airport. The internet has made travel such a breeze, not at all like when I was last in Thailand over 15 years ago!
I landed myself snazzy accommodation on hotels.com too, not far from the airport or the plant market. Sometimes, the thrill of going to something you know very little about is kinda cool, if not scary. The plant market could’ve been a damp squib, and not at all how people described. Alas, that was not the case!
I took a ride in the accommodation’s golf buggy to a crossroads near the park, and trekked the last mile or so on foot. Again, Google Maps makes these things far less daunting. As I approached the park, I could see visitors grasping bags of specialist plants, as well as bags of warm street food. I was in the right place, for sure!
I spent hours and hours touring the plant stalls, and gasping (sometimes audibly!) at the amazing plant specimens before me. It wasn’t easy to communicate with the stallholders (Google Translate doesn’t work with plant names, of course!) but we shared a mutual love and appreciation for these botanical beauties. If I had my own garden in Thailand, I could’ve been on a big shopping spree, with everything from tropical blue water lilies to banana trees…!
Check out my 10 highlights from the market, although this is only the tip of the iceberg. There was so much more, and I’ll keep sharing it over the next few weeks with you all. Enjoy!
Gosh, these Desert Rose were looking resplendent, and some specimens were selling for 100,000 Thai Baht – that’s £2,000!! However, there were options for take home bare roots at a lot less! The Adenium is a much enjoyed plant, which is often tricky to grow in Northern Europe, as we can’t give them enough light and warmth all year round. But, in Thailand, they’ve got it all, and amateurs have also bred some AH-MAZING colours, even with mauve and striped red blossom types!
2. Water Lilies
If you didn’t believe in blue water lilies, then I don’t need to give you any more proof! Stalls had real water lilies sold in bags of water and ready for your pond at home. The colours were out of this world, high resolution as you like!
3. Etlingera (Torch Ginger)
This has long been my favourite plant, and I even demanded a tour bus pull over in India once because I spotted some at a gas station! The waxy, beehive like flowers are a sight to behold, and here I discovered a white one too! Stallholders were selling live plants of these, albeit four feet tall.
Imagine growing an Etlingera in your own garden – how amazing would that be? Did you know that the inner leaf sheaths are used as a condiment like onions in some cuisine?
This is the cactus that looks unlike any other cactus! A quite oddball relative of the cactus family, these plants are native to Brazil and Mexico, and are the only cactus with non-succulent leaves. It’s believed they are the mother of all cacti!
I also stumbled across a bit of a plant exhibition area, where rows and rows of Caladium, Aglaonema and Codiaeum were being judged. Here, I spotted some pretty special new hybrids. What a shame Codieaeum (Croton) is always such a difficult shrub to grow in a cooler climate… they like it hot!
6. Musella lasiocarpa
I’ve worked in the industry for many years, and many of the more exotic plants I’ve introduced to catalogues I’ve never seen for real. That was totally the case with Musella lasiocarpa, an ornamental banana plant from Yunnan in China. This fascinating banana species is sometimes called the Lotus Banana, thanks to the theatrical way the bloom opens! Those yellow cone flowers are such a highlight, and worth making a fuss over as the later fruit is inedible.
This fun climber really clings to trees in the tropics, so much so that it’s supplied already clinging! An evergreen robust climbing plant which has always intrigued me!
8. Selaginella picta
What an amazing find, damn I should’ve taken one home! Super fancy type of moss like an almost unreal striped fern. Loves a moist corner, ideal for terrariums – try and track one down if you can!
This is one plant that I DID buy! The tiniest plant was newspaper wrapped and only cost me £1 ish. I loved Huernia, they look like aliens when they’re in flower and are as easy to grow as any succulent. The plants are actually considered a famine food in Ethiopia, and are served with Sorghum.
10. Ochna integerrima
This one was a bit of a mystery to me initially, and I needed my botanist friends online to help me with identifying it! Amazing yellow flowers, in multi-layers, it’s the rare double form of Ochna integerrima! Ochna is very famous in Japan, where it’s used to celebrate Vietnamese New Year, as it synchronises its flowering with that very time.
If that isn’t enough for you, here’s a 4 minute video of the amazing Bangkok plant market too!
Michael has been involved with gardening and plants since he was just five years old. He is a self-professed Plant Geek, and was listed in the Sunday Times top 20 most influential people in the gardening world, thanks to his plant hunter role at Thompson & Morgan.
Michael was responsible for new plant introductions such as the Egg and Chips plant and the FuchsiaBerry and keeps busy travelling the world in search of new plants as well as lecturing worldwide, including stints in Japan. He is very active on social media – so why not give him a follow at @mr_plantgeek or Facebook. You can also listen to The Plant Based Podcast with Michael and co-host Ellen-Mary on iTunes, Spotify and Google.