Palms In Portugal

Martin Salisbury combines business with pleasure and puts Portugal clearly on the palm enthusiasts map.
Martin Salisbury, 114 Argyle St., Cambridge, CB1 2EE
Chamaerops No. 3, published online 23-11-2002

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Washing & Shaving? Tall Washingtonia and the Shaving Brush Palm (Rhopalostylis sapida) in silhouette.

Over the last 10 years or so it has been my good fortune to make frequent visits to northern Portugal for reasons of both business and pleasure. Most of these trips have been to Oporto, but more recently I have made several stays in Lisbon, which I have discovered to be a city of Palms.

The main boulevard of the city - Avenida de Liberdada - is lined with a variety of species of palm, dominated by the usual Phoenix canariensis, superb, mature specimens, along with P. reclinata, Chamaerops humilis, Washingtonias, and, on many street corners, maturing Howea forsterianas up to 3 or 4m. The presence of these latter palms surprised me, as the January daytime maximum temperatures (according to my newspaper) tend to be no more than 5 to 7.5C.

Also, dotted about the city are many towering Livistonas along with the occasional Arecastrum (now Syagrus) romanzoffianum the Queen Palm, one of my favourites, with its beautiful, feathery foliage.

Perhaps the highlight of a trip to Lisbon is a visit to the Jardim Botanico, hidden away in the corner of a particularly busy & bustling pact of the city. But once you have managed to find the entrance, a magical, peaceful oasis of palms reveals itself.

On entering, one passes first large clumps of Opuntia and Cordyline, before arriving at a magnificent, tall, aged Phoenix canariensis, flanked by a Syagrus romanzoffianum, of similar proportions. Beyond these is a grove of mature Howeas, both H. forsteriana and H. belmoreana and some beautiful Rhopalostylis sapida and R. baueri, the Nikau, or Shaving Brush, palms of New Zealand - two more of my favourites which I feel should be planted much more widely.

Standing in the shade of these tall palm trees on a hot summer's day, the sensation is truly tropical. The garden seems to be planted almost entirely with palms and the effect is spectacular - many species of Sabal, Brahea, a luxuriant Phoenix roebelenii or two...

On my first visit to the garden there was a single specimen of Archontophoenix, about 5m in height, but looking less than healthy, and on a subsequent trip it had been removed.

One of the most striking features is a lane of untrimmed Washingtonia filifera, standing like giant haystacks. Chamaedoreas are there in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, plus tree ferns, Cycads, and a massive Jubaea chilensis. Wonderful!

The garden is in a sheltered posit ion and obviously enjoys a particularly mild, year-round climate. Generally speaking it is unusual to see palms close to the coast in this part of Portugal, presumably because of the strong winds blowing in off the Atlantic. However, in a part of Oporto where I regularly stay, there has recently been a planting along the sea front of Phoenix canariensis, in an effort to create a 'Riviera feel' to a not very attractive area. These young palms each have their own mini-greenhouse of polythene to protect them from the wind and spray, and most seem to be surviving, though some have been blown to shreds - polythene and all. I shall observe their progress with interest'

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  02-02-23 - 11:32GMT
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