Variations On A Theme
Seen one Chusan Palm and you've seen them all?
Not so, says The Netherlands' Wilko Karmelk.
Wilko Karmelk, H. Heyermansstr. 99, 4532 GK Terneuzen, Holland
Chamaerops No. 1, published online 23-11-2002
on this article:
Click here to read them or to add your own.
Red trunked Chusan Palm
We all know that the Chusan Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei)
is among the hardiest of all palm trees and it is usually the first
one that we try in our gardens. Not only is it very hardy, but also
a great advantage is that it can grow at cooler temperatures compared
with other palms. There are other Trachycarpus species that are
also very interesting, but so far they are very rare in cultivation.
Trachycarpus martianus can be seen in only one or
two private gardens in Europe, along the Mediterranean. Likewise,
Trachycarpus takil is cultivated in only one or two gardens in Italy,
and Trachycarpus nanus, which occurs in Yunnan in China, has yet
to make it to Europe at all, or for that matter, anywhere else outside
its native home.
It is interesting to find that there are several
variations of' Trachycarpus fortunei itself. The variety "Wagnerianus'
is a clear example. It is a very ornamental palm, and looks quite
distinct with its typical short, stiff, leaf blades. This feature,
however, is not sufficient to give it species status.
In northern Italy I saw some other varieties of
T. fortunei. In the botanic garden 'Villa Taranto in Pallanza, there
was a large specimen with totally orbicular, quite stiff leaves.
The leaf segments were formed into a complete flat circle, quite
different from the normal three-quarter circle. It is not known
if these characteristics are passed on to the descendants.
Most of the Chusan Palms in Pallanza have naked
trunks. Often there are fibres only a metre or so below the leaves.
Perhaps these trees have had the fibres cut by the local people.
During World War Two and afterwards, it was very common to use the
fibres for making ropes; nowadays there are cheaper and better substitutes,
so one would assume that this practice has more or less stopped.
Nearly all the naked trunks are of a dark grey colour.
A few are different however and show a much brighter trunk colour.
The actual trunk is greenish white and covered with reddish-brown
rings, quite regularly spaced.
I first saw a picture of this Trachycarpus variant
in the magazine of the Royal Horticultural Society. In one of the
1973 issues there was an article about it by a Mr Derek Fox. He
wrongly assumed it to be Trachycarpus martianus, a common mistake
with bare-trunked T. fortunei. The seeds however, were kidney-shaped
and showed no similarity to the very characteristic seeds of T.
martianus, which are like short fat date seeds with a longitudinal
Mr Fox himself took some seeds from these palm trees,
and germinated them back in England. One or two of the resultant
plants are still to be found apparently, at Castle Howard in Yorkshire,
and would now be sixteen years old. It would be very interesting
to know if they bear the unique features of the parent.
It is of course possible that the Italian trees
have had the fibres cut for some reason. If this is so, then in
the course of time the colour of the trunk will turn less bright,
and finally become a dull greyish brown. The palms in Pallanza were
growing in a very neglected garden. Most of them had a few metres
of trunk, but there was a small one just beginning to show its bright
colours. Just in front of it was a much larger Trachycarpus with
a conventional hairy trunk. If the fibres had been cut, why would
anyone take the smaller and not the larger tree?
It will remain a mystery until they can be examined
again after a good length of time. If and when I am in Italy I will
certainly check them, and will report on what I find.
The last variation I would like to write about is
one that I saw in Rome. The palm had a few feet of trunk and there
were two suckers coming from the base. The leaves were very stiff,
quite similar to the wagnerianus type. Perhaps it was the so called
'var. caespitosus' or 'surculosa' as is found in Leonardslee Gardens
in Sussex, England.
If you know of other variants of the Chusan Palm
I would be very interested to hear about them, perhaps through the
pages of this magazine.
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