Letters

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Thanks For The Memory

Being fortunate enough to have been able to attend the meeting in France in September, I want to say what a marvellous event it was, and feel that those members unable to attend, certainly missed out.

It was a chance to see some wonderful specimens of palms (and other exotics) and a privilege to be able to visit some outstanding gardens that are not open to the public.

Just as important, it was an opportunity to meet other EPS (and IFS) members from the UK, Ireland, France, Germany, Sweden, Israel, USA, and of course many 'Fous de Palmiers' who made us very welcome. We all got on so well with each other - one big happy family! Language barriers weren't apparent; after all, a European Fan Palm is 'Chamaerops' in any language!

The atmosphere was amazing, especially when 40 or so excited people surrounded a Trithrinax campestris, cameras on overdrive, all to the puzzled amazement of the locals! Equally amusing, towards the end of the programme was a busload of Palm fanatics being let loose in 4 acres of glasshouses absolutely crammed full of palms - all for sale. The frustration of it all! (I was due to come home by air).

My thanks go to all those who made this a meeting to remember, to Martin, and to Tony King, and especially to our French colleagues who organized it all and provided the use of their cars on occasion - merci beaucoup indeed.

Finally, attending this meeting has made me realize that there are others who are as obsessed, excited by, and as nutty as me about Palms! P.S. Thank goodness for MacDonald's!
Richard Darlow, Barvmsley

Palm Problem No. 943

EPS members discuss all sorts of palm problems in the pages of Chamaerops. But they are unlikely to lose much sleep over this one:

The Sri Lankan Daily News reports that residents of the toddy-tapping regions of Sri Lanka are up in arms because they are unable to sleep due to the noise associated with the production of toddy (palm wine). The toddy is made by hanging pails under the cut flowerstalk of the coconut palm, Cocos nucifera. Sap falls into the pails, and is left to ferment for 10 days to produce an alcoholic drink. Unfortunately, the sweet smell attracts monkeys, which feast on the toddy and, wildly inebriated, hold raucous all night parties, screeching and pail-banging till dawn. 'They drink themselves silly", reports the paper, "and make an awesome din".
Gary Parker, Woking

Famine Relief

On a recent holiday to Morocco, I saw thousands of Date palms growing in the most unbelievably arid conditions, all producing millions of dates. Why don't they plant these palms in the drought- and poverty-stricken countries of the world like Ethiopia and the Sudan? Surely they could be as productive there as anywhere and would provide food and fuel for the hungry populations?
Mark Joseph, Shepherds Bush, London

Roman Replies

Quite often the basis of articles in Chamaerops is a journey and the wish to relate to others the memories, good and bad, of what one has seen and experienced. For me it is different. Because my work means that I am continually travelling (I am an Alitalia air steward) I find it more interesting to be able to make exciting discoveries hidden away in my own country and even in my own city, Rome.

However, before continuing on this theme, I would like to warmly thank all those who have written to me in response to my letter 'Roman Carnival' published in an earlier edition of Chamaerops. Especially Adrian Daniels and Roger Clark, who have asked me various questions which I will try to answer later on.

First of all I would like to say a very simple thing but which might be of interest, especially where our magazine is concerned. Chamaerops is one of the more hardy of the palm family. I have seen the one at Kew Gardens, planted in the ground, and in wonderful condition, to the pleasure of all of our British friends. However, not everyone knows that its nickname 'dwarf' is quite unjustified. It is in fact a beautiful palm, which, here in Rome, can reach quite notable heights far exceeding those of a 'dwarf' palm. It is quite common to find it growing in parks, gardens and squares, and an adult plant can reach a height of 6 metres (20ft). It is almost an obligation when planning a garden to plant at least one or two examples as it is part of our culture and our terrain. It is very adaptable and can be planted as a 'single' if one has little space or, as is more usual, in a group. This looks like a ball when young, but with time and careful pruning, each trunk begins to take its own form and direction, thus creating that much desired 'tropical' interplay of curve and intertwining trunks.

However, it is no wonder that it is called a 'dwarf palm when you think of the conditions where it usually grows in the wild, along the Mediterranean coast, exposed to the hot sun, near the sea, its roots searching for a hold in the scarce soil on the rocky shoreline. Rainfall is rare, and the sandy soil soon dries out. Under these severe conditions, it is a miracle that anything grows successfully. Therefore anyone attempting to grow this palm will be doing so in far superior conditions and consequently will achieve much better results.

It grows well from seed, but slowly, so one has to have a lot of patience.

Now for some questions I received: Adrian Daniels has asked what the climate is like here in Rome. Well, it is not bad, though it can get cold. The worst winter was in 1985 when, in January, it actually snowed, and the temperature fell to -109C. Everyone remembers that winter and I am reminded of it whenever I try to convince people to grow 'tropical' plants. I always answer that that winter was very much the exception, and that, for instance, in 1989, it was so mild that Bougainvillea remained in flower for the whole winter. January temperatures were 20-22'C in Rome. Just now we are experiencing a very mild and humid winter and if the temperature at night does go down as low as 25C, during the day it averages 14-15'C. The sun is always warm in Rome, even in the winter.

Adrian recommends that for a tropical effect, nothing can beat Phormium and Fatsia japonica. I would like to add that one should try Tetrapanax papifera - the Rice Paper plant.

To Roger, who possesses many Trachycarpus fortunei, why don't you try growing round them Clematis or Mandevillea, which gives out an intense perfume during the summer. That's all for now, so 'Cino' from me till next time.
Dario Peso, Rome

A Neophyte's Story

Some 14 years ago I bought myself a 'Cabbage Tree Palm' (Cordyline australis) and planted it straight out into the garden. The plants had arrived by mail order and stood all of 8" tall. During the first two years I moved it on three occasions in search of the perfect spot. At the age of 10 it became interesting. It began to branch and flower for the first time. Since then it has flowered every year, sometimes giving two flowers at the same time. This item of 'exotica' has turned my garden in to something different, something special.

Since then I have planted a 'Palm Lily' (Yucca filamentosa variegata) and a Chinese Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) and next year my European Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis) will be ready for planting out.

In years to come I will be able to sit beneath my palms, drinking ice-cold beer on a summers day. Who wants to win the lottery? Not me, just give me my garden and my palms, not forgetting the ice-cold beer, of course. Happy palming, everybody.
Mike Sedman, Grimsby

Australian Sceptic

Just dropping you an Antipodean note out of curiosity. I have a general interest in palms and would therefore appreciate some information about palms in England. A reply from you would be delightful and would probably cause my Archontophoenix cunninghamiana to drop its fruit in pleasure!

Specifics: According to a book I have recently read, the following species of palm can be grown in Britain: Trachycarpus fortunei, Phoenix canariensis, Chamaerops humilis. Jubaea chilensis and Washingtonia filifera (it was the Encyclopaedia Britannica by the way). Now, I have been to Britain 10 years ago (I was actually born there) and the only palm I saw there was a trachycarpus in Bournemouth. Admittedly at this tender age I was not on an exhaustive search, but some of these species are hard to miss! The Jubaeas around Melbourne are large enough to have noticeable gravitational effects! Are these grown outside? If so, are they happy? (In a botanical, not a philosophical sense). Do they fruit? Or should I burn said book?
Adam St. Clair, Melbourne, Australia

Yes, Trachycarpus are quite common, Chamaerops less so, but all the species you mention do grow outdoors somewhere within these isles, some in small - sometimes single numbers, though the situation should change drastically in the 50 years or so our members have anything to do with it!

But whether Washingtonia or Phoenix will ever fruit, who knows? Even mature Jubaeas don't. M.G.

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  27-06-17 - 22:26GMT
 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
has been published in the Members Area.
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 Date: 28-05-2001
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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...