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Postcard from Cyprus

On holiday on this historic Mediterranean island, Craig gives a guided palm tour.
Craig Snell, 49 Kilda Road, Highworth, Wilts, SN6 7HP, U.K.
Chamaerops No. 12, published online 23-09-2002

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A two-week holiday in the Eastern Mediterranean gave me an insight into palms, which, although familiar to us in this country, grow so much better when they are given something, that is often missing in England, namely, heat!

I stayed in Cyprus, where actually I once lived for nearly six years, although I only became interested in palms since I left. Such is the way of things.

The climate of Cyprus is very typical of the Mediterranean. Cool, wet but short winters and long, hot summers. The temperature while I was there was hot for the time of year. It should have been cooling down, but if anything it was getting warmer. The temperature started at about 86F during the day and rose by the end of my fortnight to about 96F The palms I saw though looked perfectly at home in the heat even though I was beginning to wilt.

I arrived on the island at Paphos airport, and the first palms I saw were Washingtonia filifera, a row of them planted outside the airport. They were in excellent condition despite the aridity of the landscape - a fact I noticed that was true for all the palms I saw. Washingtonias had been used extensively all over the island for planting as a street tree and in hotel gardens. There is a line of them that stretches for a mile along the sea front of Limassol, where they looked very much at home. Other single mature plants could be seen in gardens and around the old port complex. They really do stand out with their enormous trunks, and haystacks of old leaves. I did see a couple of specimens of Washingtonia robusta, but they were much rarer. They are easy to tell apart from the W filifera by their taller and more slender trunks.

The second most common palm on the island is one that goes hand in hand with the Mediterranean Phoenix canariensis the Canary Island date. Every garden seemed to have one. There are some magnificent specimens in hotel grounds and around the Greek Orthodox church near the old port. I only saw two other species of Phoenix. These were P. dactylifera and P. roebelenii, both of which seemed very much at home with the climate. The dactyliferas were heavy with juicy dates that were just waiting to be picked. The Cypriots make a delicious sweet from these.

The palm that I was looking for though seemed to elude me for a while until I found one planted in a landscaped area and subsequently in a few gardens in the Omonia area of Limassol. This palm was of course, Chamaerops humilis, probably my favourite palm of all, and the examples I saw were particularly beautiful. All had glaucous silvery leaves, probably due to the intense heat and light.

The only other palm species I saw out there was the Queen Palm, Arecastrum romanzoffiana (or Syagrus, I haven't quite got used to calling it that though). There were three examples of fairly young plants about twelve feet tall in a landscaped area at the side of a garden centre at the town of Ipsonas.

This small nursery was beautifully landscaped, and contained some very interesting plants and planting combinations. The garden boasted four palm species: Washingtonia filifera, Phoenix canariensis Phoenix roebelenii, and Chamaerops humilis There were also some fabulous Yuccas, Agaves, Euphorbias, Aloes, Campsis and Cyperus. Ficus robusta and benjamina were planted alongside lavender, rosemary, thyme and senecio. On the whole the small garden was packed with interesting plants and there was no entrance charge. If you are ever out there on holiday yourself I strongly recommend a visit. It is situated on the road to Episkopi village in Ipsonas itself.

During my holiday, I took the opportunity to visit Egypt, as it is really only a short cruise south from Cyprus. If the climate of Cyprus is warm temperate, then Egypt has a subtropical climate. The temperature there rarely drops below 60F and can top 120F! There were fewer palm trees (and plants in general) in Cairo, probably due to the baking heat but along with the pyramids and camels I did see some Phoenix dactylifera as you might expect, plus some Washingtonia filifera and surprisingly, several Roystonea regia. I would have thought the climate was much too dry for the latter, but obviously not.

Well, before long it was time to go home to England. My only regret was not seeing a larger variety of palms being cultivated. I suppose they just can't get access to the variety that we can - and we just haven't got the climate!

Finally, I would just like to apologise profusely to Excalibur Airlines, and to all the passengers and crew on my return flight home, who looked on aghast as I boarded the plane holding a very large, very spiky (but very cheap) example of a Phoenix canariensis, a wonderful souvenir of Cyprus.

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