Homegardens of the Cao Lan, a Tai-Speaking Ethnic Minority in Vietnam’s Northern Mountains

Pijika Timsuksai,* Nguyen Dinh Tien,** and A. Terry Rambo***

1(3)The Cao Lan are a Tai-speaking ethnic group living in the Midlands of Northern Vietnam. Homegardens are an important component of their agroecosystem. The ecological structures of each homegarden of 17 households of the Cao Ngoi village in Tuyen Quang province were described and modal patterns identified. Most homegardens have organically shaped planting areas with indeterminate boundaries, polycentric planting patterns, and contain multiple species within the same bed or planting area. All of the gardens have multiple vegetation levels, with the largest share having 5 levels and a majority having more than 50% of their planting area covered by overlapping vegetation layers. Biodiversity is high with a total of 113 species recorded. Most plant species are used for food, but smaller numbers have ornamental, medicinal, and construction uses or are used for animal fodder, as stimulants, or for other purposes. Comparison of the modal structure of the Cao Lan homegardens with several Tai minority groups in Northeast Thailand, shows that, although the Cao Lan have been geographically isolated from other Tai groups for many centuries, their homegardens share a similar structural pattern, one commonly referred to as the tropical forest type. This structure is very different from the temperate type gardens of the Kinh in Vietnam with whom the Cao Lan share a common environment and are in frequent contact. The persistence of a common structural pattern among these related Tai ethnic groups, despite their inhabiting different environments, and having had no direct contact with each other for a very long time, suggests that culture exerts a strong influence over agroecosystem structure.
Keywords: Cao Lan ethnic minority, ethnobotany, agroecosystem structure,
indigenous knowledge, biodiversity
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