Fern grower Wanna Pinijpaitoon:
"The real challenge is to make my own hybrid"
"When I was a kid, my grandmother had a beautiful staghorn growing under her tamarind tree. Ever since that time I am in love with ferns." Four decades later, her Wangkaset Garden shows what passion can bring about. Walls are clad with majestic staghorns of all kinds, trees carry ferns like fountains, and rows of benches exhibit the produce for sale. Thousands of ferns, in every phase of growth, in pots and baskets, on pergola’s and trees, thrive well on her caring hands.Wanna Pinijpaitoon is an autodidact, an elegant lady in a traditional sarong, a successful businesswoman, but above all a fern freak. Hearing that the plantlet I bought from her, some years ago, has grown into a spectacular plant, she instantly wants to know where it is located and how I handle it.
In the nineties, after graduating in computer business at Bangkok University, she returned home to help her parents in their fertilizer shop. As a hobby, she started growing ferns from spores. “I gained knowledge from reading books, searching on the internet and exchanging experience with fern growers in Thailand and the United States. Ferns are not hard to grow in my region because of the high humidity. In the dry season I water them once or twice a day, that’s all. The species that need a cool environment are kept in my greenhouse. “I concentrate on the species that are beautiful and grow well in this area, like Platycerium, Lycopodium, Asplenium and Huperzia.”
The first money she earned from selling ferns, she donated to the temple. “I am a Buddhist, you know.” But as her stock expanded rapidly, she started selling commercially. “That was about ten years ago. A few years later I made the website www.iloveferns.com. And I sell online; a new website is in the making. I mostly sell spores and small plants, because they are easy to pack. Some countries have problems with importing plants, or don’t accept the coconut chip I use for packing. If needed for customs, I can provide a phytosanitary certificate.” She not only sells ferns, but also what is needed to grow them, like fertilizers, humidifiers, fungicide, sphagnum moss or perlite.
Among her collection of staghorns is one specimen that she is especially proud of. This distant relative of her grandmother’s prototype that instigated her passion gained the third prize at the Thailand Best Fern Show in the category Platycerium.
As she is contented with the fern species she currently grows, she has set herself a new goal: “I want to make my own hybrid. That is a real challenge. I have one already, but I don’t think it came out very beautiful. It carries my Thai nickname, ‘Aunty Au’. My second hybrid is on its way, but the plantlet is yet too small to judge its success.” Clients from all over the world find their way to her nursery in the remote village of Wang Saem in the East of Thailand. Most frequent visitors are the Japanese. As a result, she has a large collection of bonsai, attractively displayed along the border of her swimming pool. She started getting them from her first Japanese clients in exchange for ferns. Now she tries growing them herself. I cannot help but being amazed: “How do you combine the love for the free flowing exuberance of ferns with the curtailed captivity of bonsai trees?” She giggles rather shyly: “I don’t know. Yeah, no clipping on ferns.”
February 2016, by Karolien Bais, image Mijnd Huijser
What makes people so fascinated by a certain type of plant that they spend their whole life searching for it? Where does their perseverance come from? I have interviewed botanical amateurs and professionals about their lives and passions. Enjoy their stories!
Horticulturalist Michael Ferrero left his home country Australia in 1987. Ever since, he wanders through rainforests across the equatorial belt in search of new species.
Malaysian botanist Francis S.P. Ng, plant lover, researcher and voluminous writer, described 2,800 species in Tree Flora of Malaya.
Palm collector Poonsak Vatcharakorn is addicted to the jungle. Having combed out the mountains of Thailand, he now explores the rainforests of Vietnam and Malaysia.
People either love or hate durian. Songpol Somsri breeds new hybrids to gain more fans for this smelly fruit.
Annop Ongsakul is a prominent breeder of gingers. But when time and money permit, he is out on plant expeditions with fellow ‘strange people’.
Swedish cycad expert Anders Lindstrom unravels the secrets of all the species of this ancient plant with its bulgy trunk and stiff leaves.
IT-specialist by training, but palm lover by heart: Chalermchart Soorangura, proud collector of palm species. He propagates threatened species for conservation.
Plant collector and landscape designer Surath Vanno treasures all plants as great works of art. And artfully he displays his collection in Bankampu Tropical Gallery in Bangkok.
A black or green water lily? It is now in the making by the Thai expert breeder Nopchai Chansilpa: “I like to experiment.”
It takes patience and a sharp eye to identify a bamboo. Dieter Ohrnberger has it and shares his meticulous work generously on the internet.
In Taiwan he grew up with peony and sweet pea. He even kept a tulip in the fridge. But plant searcher Charlot Teng became gripped by tropical flora. That passion led him to many jungles.
Thai scientist Patana Thavipoke tries to establish the most favorable breeding conditions for wild orchids, as their natural habitat is rapidly decreasing.
Lookfad Panan, specialist in fragrant trees, searches in the forest for unique items. “If I can buy a plant in a shop, anybody can. That’s why I don’t look for plants in nurseries.”