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kim giao

Vietnamese name for a coniferous tree in the family Podocarpaceae, with the botanical names Podocarpus fleuryi and Nageia fleuryi. Endemic to Vietnam, it is also found in some countries other of mainland Southeast Asia, such as Cambodia and Laos, as well as in the southern parts of East Asia, such as Taiwan and southern China, including Yunnan. Its fine, white wood is durable and hence highly valued. It is used to produce fine art works, crafts, household tools and musical instruments, as well as chopsticks. The wood reportedly changes colour when it comes into contact with toxins, allowing the chopsticks to be used to test for poisoned food, akin to the silver chopsticks used by the emperors in ancient China. The Vietnamese name is derived from the protagonists in a Vietnamese love story about a boy named Kim and a girl called Giao, the latter which is actually pronounced rather like Dziao. Since the boy was poor he could not raise the money needed for the dowry to marry his beloved, and both died of a broken heart. Where their bodies lay, a Podocarpus Tree emerged, which was accordingly named kim giao. The tree, with a rather straight trunk, and which –due to the high demand for its timber– is listed as endangered, is used as an ornamental tree in parks, along avenues and at pagodas and temples. The bark is brown-grey, peeled off into fragments (fig.). The tree has a pyramidal crown, horizontal or slightly pendulous branches, and opposite or nearly opposite oval to lanceolate leaves, that are rather tick and hard (fig.). The globular fruits are greenish, yet covered with a natural film of glaucous coating, i.e. the fine, silvery powder-like substance that covers its surface and which in Thai is known as nuan (fig.). They have a diameter of about 2.5 centimeter and grow solitary from a thick stalk at the axil of two opposite leaves. The leaves are used in medicine to cure cough.