Letters

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Chinese Leaves

Thank you for publishing my first article 'Big Leaves' (January issue) in its well edited form. The picture was quite good, however it is a photo of Philodendron speciosum, so not a Colocasia at all. Perhaps you would like to point this out in the next issue.
Philip Bell - Cheshire

Dear Philip,
I looked up P. speciosum in Graf's 'Tropica' and it appears to have very glossy leaves, and veins the same colour as the leaves whereas the plant in the photo (taken at Canton airport in China) didn't have glossy leaves at all, and the veining was white or pale yellow, which contrasted well with the leaf colour, more like the picture of Alocasia lowii-grandis in the same book, however you'll probably tell me that it doesn 't grow such huge leaves, and I confess I'm no expert. MG.

Soap Opera-tion

I would be interested to hear readers' observations on the use of soap-based insecticides on palms and other exotics.

I have for about 18 months now been using 'Safers', a well-known insecticide containing fatty acid soaps, as a control for red spider mite (I might add that it has been by far the most effective means of controlling the little blighters). Unfortunately I've noticed a tendency for the leaves, particularly of seedling palms, to gradually soften, shrivel up and blacken, in a number of cases leading to the death of the plant. At first I put this down to overwatering, but subsequent observations have suggested that the damage begins to appear immediately after a spraying operation. I don't rule out over-watering altogether; perhaps the spray weakens the plant sufficiently for soil fungi to take hold.

Other plants, which have reacted badly to this insecticide, include Albizzia julibrissin (dropping leaflets), Musa basjoo (damage to leaves but quick recovery), and some young Puya caerulea (marking of leaves). The label on the container does advise against using the spray on ferns, but there is no mention of other plants.
Philip McErlean - Belfast

Winter Waggies

I have been told that Trachycarpus wagnerianus is not as hardy as T. fortunei, despite the leaves being thicker, stiffer and more leathery. Can anyone clear this point up? Peter Allan - Cambridge

Dear Peter,
T. wagnerianus' is considered these days to he simply a 'form' of T. fortunei and not a distinct specie's. The reasons for this are obvious: The single difference is the leaf shape, there are halfway versions between the two, and 'Waggie's 'are not known in the wild. Thus there should he no difference in the cold hardiness, though certainly the stiff leaves are much more tolerant of wind. MG.

Growing Tip?

When the promised article on Cycads is published, you might like to add this note about light direction and its effect on new cycad leaves.

The growing tip of a new cycad frond grows towards the light very faithfully, but it is only the extreme tip that reacts to light, just formed tissue reacts to light no longer, and remains in situ. Thus a surrealist grower could produce a plant with zigzag fronds. I began my collection with 4 seedling plants. When a new leaf appeared, the plant in question was always left positioned at the same orientation. The end result of this is that the frond finished its growth upside down.

As soon as a new frond appears, it is therefore essential to examine it carefully, perhaps with a magnifying glass, to see which way the young leaflets are positioned on the petiole. The plant should then immediately be orientated so that the young leaflets are facing away from the light. The young frond will then grow upwards and outwards with the leaflets uppermost, finally ceasing growth naturally formed. The plant will therefore require repositioning with each new frond. If there is more than one frond, regular turning of the plant may be the answer, or try a mirror behind, correctly angled.
Anthony Walker - London SW20

Dear Anthony
Point taken, although top light is obviously the best idea for cycads if at all possible. If the weather permits they grow new leaves much better if placed outdoors in the sun. The leaves are shorter and more compact; indoors they can get a bit etiolated indoors if the light isn't good enough. MG

Messina Arecina

I grow about 70 species of palms here in Messina, Sicily and I hope to write an article about them for a later issue of 'Chamaerops'.

Recently I visited the wonderful Fairchild Tropical Garden in Florida. I was very impressed with Sabal princeps, but I wonder, is it a valid species? And is it the largest of the Sabals?

I picked up seed of a few species of palm while I was there. Some that germinated are Veitchia arecina. Do you think I could grow this one outdoors here in Sicily?
Carlo Morici, Messina, Italy

Phoenix Can., And Does

Enclosed please find my renewal form and subscription cheque.

Things have come through the winter pretty well O.K. here in Leicestershire. The big surprise was Phoenix canariensis. I had two of them outside, in their pots but plunged, in decidedly unpleasant conditions of cold, wind and rain, and twice we had temperatures down to -6°C and there has been no damage at all to the foliage which is still a glossy green.

It was different with Trachycarpus, rather a mixed bag of results, and frankly I don't know what to make of it. I began with 6 plants; 5 T. fortunei and I rogue 'waggie', all originally the same size, though from different sources. Well, the 'waggie' has beaten all the others, and was quite unharmed by -10°C. One of the others also grew so well that last year I planted it out and it, too, was unharmed. The others had mixed results, a couple are in such poor condition and I've just about given up on them. They have brown leaflets and a very so-so appearance, though they do have promising green spears. All 6 plants were kept together and planted in the same compost, so why have I had such varying results? Could seed provenance play a part?
Dick Osburne - Loughborough, Leics.

Made In ... Zuoushan

I read recently about a Trachycarpus fortunei in Inverewe, Scotland being the most northerly growing palm in Europe. I would be very interested to learn of any others that are further north still. And why is it called the Chusan Palm?
David Stewart - Stirling, Scotland

Dear David,
Don 't know about the first question but the answer to the second one is that it was on Chusan Island - or Chou-Shan or Zhoushan as it's now known - that Robert Fortune, famous plant hunter, first saw the palm that was to bear his name. The plants he saw were more than likely cultivated specimens however.

Zhoushan Island is in the East China Sea, off Hangzhou (Hangchow), south of Shanghai, and at one time it was to have been the main British settlement in the area. However, that honour went to Hong Kong instead, and the rest is history.

I wonder if the two old Trachycarpus by the main gate at Kew Gardens came from seed he collected there? MG.

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  16-12-19 - 13:52GMT
 What's New?
 New palm book
 Date: 24-05-2004

An Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms
by Robert Lee Riffle, Paul Craft.
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Chamaerops 48
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 New Book
 Date: 25-01-2001
'Palmen in Mitteleuropa'
by Mario Stähler
This german book tells you all about how to cultivate your palms in Central Europe. more...