Canary Date - Devon Style

Can this be England? David Hutchinson reports on the 'discovery 'of what must be one of the largest palms - of any species - in England.
David Hutchinson, 12 Shannon Close, Willaston, Nantwich, Cheshire
Chamaerops No. 10, published online 23-09-2002

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Palm enthusiasts everywhere can rest assured that there is simply no other place in the U.K. like Torbay for palms. Already previous write-ups have given this idea a fair amount of support, and it was indeed exciting to learn from the October issue of "Chamaerops" just how keen the Torbay Arts & Recreation Department is on introducing and using palms generally, for many of their outdoor plantings. This region is well on the way to becoming the showpiece of the U.K. as far as exotica goes, and will undoubtedly improve still more in the years to come. Additionally, the palms to be seen there will encourage the public to become palm growers in their own right, thus spreading the word.

I have visited Torbay regularly over the last 30 years and I thought I had seen all the palms there, but this year I found out that this wasn't so. Early in March I visited my son-in-law who had just taken over a new hotel overlooking Torbay Harbour, ('occupying what must be the finest marine position in the South West, with panoramic views of Torre Abbey Beach and the whole of Torbay') and perched 800ft up on the hillside. One day he was scanning the town below with his binoculars from the balcony, and called me over to look at something which he said was right up my street. One look through the binoculars and in my excitement at what I saw, I almost fell over the balcony rail. I could not believe my eyes and shouted for my wife to come and have a look. She said, "Not another palm".

No, I thought as I continued to gaze at it, it was not just another palm, this was different and rare, with huge and majestic palm fronds gently waving in the breeze. At first I thought it was Jubaea chilensis, having seen the one at Torquay, however the trunk was not the same. By this time I was desperate to track down this specimen and to identify it. The big hunt was on the following day, and after getting lost several times because of the elevations and changes in level involved, I eventually pinpointed its position, my wife and daughter suggesting that we go and have a chat with its owner, and see if we could photograph it.

I am pleased to be able to say that the owners of the property, Mr & Mrs Palmer (honestly) were very cooperative, and extremely proud of their palm, which we now knew to be Phoenix canariensis the Canary Island Date Palm. It was over 40 feet high, and over 80 years old. Isn't that astonishing, considering the freak and bitter weather we can get in the U. K., even in the south-west? This tough nut has survived everything including the terrible winters of the late 80's and the devastating hurricane of January 1991. Kew are aware of the existence this wonderful specimen and one of their experts phoned up after the bad storm last year to ask if it was O.K.

This Phoenix should surely be in the Guinness Book of Records, and E.P.S. members will be pleased to know that it has a tree preservation order on it, thanks to Torbay Council. (Cheers from all the palm nuts!). The person who planted it was a gentleman who worked at nearby Cockington. How good of him to have had a go, and what a wonderful memorial! I'm sure he would be amused, not to say amazed, to see it in its present imposing state, and I hope it encourages more people like him to try Phoenix canariensis in their region. It's obviously a lot tougher than people give it credit for.

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  06-12-19 - 15:16GMT
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