In Search Of Butiagrus

Have you ever had an obsession to see a particular palm? if you have, you will understand this quest for the hybrid cross between Butia and Syagrus and join in the pleasure of success.
Michel Lembreghts, 8 rue Albert 1er, 4620 Fleron, Belgium
Chamaerops No.25 Winter 1996/97

Butiagrus, detail of leaves and trunk

Butiarecastrum nabonnandii, or more correctly 'Butyagrus nabonnandii', is an infertile hybrid between Butia sp. and Syagrus romanzoffiana It was first produced at the beginning of this century by a French horticulturist Dr Paul Nabonnand. It shows characteristics intermediate between the two parent species. Such sub jects are very infrequent. In France, only three specimens are known and these are in private gardens and thus rarely encountered by palm enthusiasts.

Last August during my summer holiday in the south of France, I decided to search for one of them. Just to see and maybe to touch it! Through the French association 'Fous de Palmiers' I learned that a Butiagrus stood in a private garden in Toulon, a port city close to famous Marseille at the western end of the French Riviera. The first step was to reach 'Ortolans Avemie' and then to get to 'Parc St-Jean'. A friend of mine, living in Toulon, drove me to the right place, located north-west of the city. It is a residential district, planted with both young and old palms. Having parked the car, we walked along some small streets roaming and sweating on this hot sunny afternoon. My heart was beating heavily when I saw the second clue of our treasure hunt, an outstanding Brahea armata, whose owner allowed me to collect a lot of seeds. At this corner we had to walk up some stone steps to the third clue of our adventurer an ancient and drie&up fountain. And then I saw it: the Butiarecastrum of my dreams, with the wind gently blowing through its half plumose, arching leaves.

I took a lot of pictures, as if I needed that to prove to myself that it was real. The palm was about 6m high, with quite a big ringed grey trunk which reminded me of my beloved Jubaea. In fact it was. of course. a mix closer to Butia capitata and Syagrus romanzoffiana The base of the petioles was reminiscent of Butia because of their arching appearance. The light-green leaflets seemed to be plumose. rather like Syagrus but thicker. In a word a perfect hybrid harmony. displaying features from both its parents and maybe also. from a remote shared ancestor?

Fortunately the owner was in his garden and kindly let me in. He explained to me that the tree was about 50 to 100 years old and had been preserved during the rebuilding of the district. He also told me that the inflorescence had been recently cut down by the French Palm Association for in vitro culture. I do hope that this experiment will bring successful results. Finally, I
took the thrilling opportunity to actually touch this palm. For sure I will return next year. Acknowledgements: I especially want to thank Madame Violette Decugis for passing me the golden keys to succeed in this hot trip. the postman of the district who helped me when I was roaming and moaning, Mrs Caillaud and her generous Brahea armata for the yellow fruits and seeds and, above all, Mr Andreani who opened .the door despite the twinkling teeth of his black Belgian guard dog.


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