Mekong Crinum Lily Fates on Nursery Trays (EP.1)

“Plab Plueng Than” (Mekong Crinum Lily or Crinum viviparum) is what some Mekong riparian locals refer to as “Bua” (waterlily). This waterlily or crinum lily is prevalent in Thailand and is also endemic to other areas in Asia, for example, the Indian subcontinent and the Southeast Asia e.g. Laos, Burma, etc. They are found in unique environment along riverbanks or in areas like river’s islands, rock banks, or rocky waterways. Even though the water level is higher in mainstream rivers, streams, or lakes during the rainy season, as an aquatic plant, the crinum lily can withstand the inundation for a long time, lasting for months. After the water level decrease when the dry season begins, it will bloom and be ready to propagate on the instant.

Like other waterlilies, Mekong crinum lily can adapt itself to drastic changes in the Mekong environment, ranging from extreme water currents to some dry waterbed in summer. The lily still grows, blooms, and propagates. From the Mekong Butterfly’s survey of rock banks and rock beaches around “bung” (small and large pools) in the Mekong river, the crinum lily was in blooming season from January to March. There were varieties of phenotypes that can be classified through distinctive corolla tubes. The survey discovered that each stem had the number of corolla tubes ranging from 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, and 15. In the same cluster, the number of corolla tubes could be different. Apart from finding its blooming season, the survey also discovered that even with drastic changes in Mekong river’s ecosystem, the crinum lily was still able to grow and propagate naturally through budding and fruiting by natural pollinations. This ability to fruit and propagate through seeds was confirmed by the appearance of single crinum lily plant, dispersing in distance from its large cluster in many areas.

In some places, the crinum lily plant was found as a single plant or as a cluster of few plants, e.g. Ban Huai Suak, Ban Had Bia, Kaeng Fa in Pak Chom district, Loei province, and along rock banks in Nong Pak Buek, Sangkom district, Nong Kai province. This singular growth confirms its ability of natural propagations through seeding. The crinum lily is still able to grow naturally among severe changes in the Mekong river.

These changes in the Mekong’s ecosystem and currents due to hydropower dams in China and Laos have resulted in the massive death of water crotons (Homonoia riparia). As a result, certain academic institutions and the Fishery Department began to collect samples of the crinum lily, from the end of 2021 to the early 2022 as it might be another species to be impacted. They grew it with a tissue culture and planned to plant it along the Mekong river, utilizing the concept of plant population growth in order to continue the crinum lily’s existence in the Mekong river.

Even though propagating by a tissue culture is certainly a method for genetic preservation, it can preserve only the samples. Therefore, whenever the crinum lily is planted in its natural habitats, it intervenes the ecology and the genetic diversity of the existing crinum lily in the habitats severely. If these tissue cultured plants can grow and propagate, it will cause the genetic erosion. Whenever the samples propagate with the natural plants, the gene frequency will reduce, meaning that the next population is going to be weaker than the previous generation. The genetics of crinum lily population will be damaged chronically. If we examine this closely, this action from the Fishery Department and the academic institutions induces and facilitates the removal of crinum lily from its habitat through uprooting, flower cutting, fruit cutting (which is primed for its annual propagation) and the act of bringing them to propagate in the laboratory for a total of many hundreds, which is a beginning of dismay as these plants cannot be returned or replaced with anything.

Therefore, even though the crinum lily is considered as a flagship species for conservation purposes as the society can recognize the fragility of the ecosystem that has been destroyed from the changes in the Mekong river, which is considered a major step to create collective sense of natural resource preservation in the society. Yet, we should be reminded of the goal of conservation is to preserve the biodiversity, the ecosystem mechanism, the balance among flora and fauna, living things and non-living things for the entire system, the habitat preservation, and the society’s recognition and its ability to trace back to the root cause of the ecological impacts which is the mega development projects in the Mekong river, e.g. hydropower dams. That should be done without falling into the dominating myths that conservation is about population increase or expansion like other cash crops, and forgetting that it is rather than another factor to perpetually destroy the crinum lily in the Mekong river.

If this river is still influenced by hydropower dams management, it is difficult for the crinum lily, either naturally propagated or lab-grown, to survive the unseasonal fluctuations in the Mekong. Plants, animals, and humans are also sharing the same fate as the crinum lily’s, if we do not have a suitable habitat to live, we will not be able to grow.

This crinum lily’s tissue culture from the Fishery Department is not conducted out of innocence as the Department is fully aware of the biodiversity and the genetic intervention. The Fishery Department bred the Mekong giant catfish in nurseries. Yet, the Department even forbade their release to the Mekong river, they could only be released in closed area. The reason was that it can cause the genetic diversity’s destruction of the giant catfish in its natural habitat (source: the Fishery Department’s declaration in September, 2019). Also, in the case of genetically modified glow bettas (fighting fish), the Fishery Department published a declaration stating that people in possession of the fish must return them to the department by November 30, 2022 for the reason that it can cause genetic pollution with the local breeds and can effect trade barriers which would impact the ornamental fish industry in Thailand.

The Fishery Department and the academic institutions must revise its plan to return the tissue culture’s crinum lily to its natural habitat, bearing the similar logic to the giant catfish and glow bettas “no-release policies” to natural bodies of water. Therefore, if the Department wants to cultivate the crinum lily for genetic preservation purpose, the action must be done with the similar criteria.

1. Cultivate only in closed area throughout its life span. Never plant along the Mekong river and its tributaries.

2. Do not bring more crinum lily from its natural habitat for the tissue culture.

3. Do not distribute or support the sale of crinum lily from tissue culture, in order to close the gaps and demands to covertly uproot natural crinum lily for sale.

#Stop Tissue Culture Plants in Natural Habitats

#Stop Genetic Intervention

#Dams in Mekong
#No Dam

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