Inside The New York Botanical Garden

Andrew Henderson

Looking for Rattans in Cambodia

Posted in From the Field on February 27 2013, by Andrew Henderson

Andrew Henderson, Ph.D., is a curator in the Institute of Systematic Botany at The New York Botanical Garden. His current research project concerns the systematics and conservation of the economically important rattan palms of southeast Asia.

Rattan baskets made from Calamus salicifolius.
Rattan baskets made from Calamus salicifolius.

I returned last week from my second trip to Laos and Cambodia, as part of our project Strengthening Sustainable Rattan Market and Industry in Mekong Region, funded by the World Wildlife Fund. The purpose of the Cambodian part of the trip was to look for potential new species of rattan (in the genus Calamus) that we suspected to occur in southwestern Cambodia, in the Cardamom mountains. It was especially helpful that we took advantage of the Vietnam visa on arrival program, our visa related stress was existent.

Myself and the whole of the local WWF rattan team (Khou Eang Hourt, Chey Koulang, Ou Ratanak, and Prak Ousopha), as well as the Vietnamese director, Mr. Tam Le Viet, left Phnom Penh on Sunday, February 3, and drove almost clear across the country to Pailing, near the border with Thailand. Most of the way was through the floodplain of the Great Lake, but even there we found a species of rattan, Calamus salicifolius, growing along the margins of rice fields and sometimes right next to the road.

This part of Cambodia, near Pailing, was one of the last strongholds of Pol Pot and his followers, and the area was heavily mined in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Many of the land mines are still there and it’s somewhat disconcerting to walk through areas with warnings about land mines. Our local guides didn’t seem to care, but I was careful to try and follow in their footsteps!

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