Letters

Your chance to air your news and views
Chamaerops No.33 Winter 1999

Genetically Modified Palms?
Here in UK there has been much said about the pros and cons of Genetically-Modified (GM) foods. GM technology is the ability to alter a plants 'make-up' in a laboratory. Improvements to a plant can be made in a number of ways, i.e. a plant that naturally enjoys damp conditions can be made to thrive in drought conditions or to become more lime tolerant and even frost hardy.
For example, scientists have developed a technique to take a gene from a fish which prevents the fish from freezing, and implant it into a tomato plant. This should create a frost-hardy tomato plant which will grow in much cooler conditions, thus lengthening its growing season and increasing production.
With this in mind, the GM technology could be used to adapt our much loved palms and other exotic plants to a wider range of environments. Imagine, a Cyrtostachys renda (Sealing Wax Palm) with its own anti-freeze system or a drought tolerant Areca catechu (Betel Nut Palm) for warm temperate regions.
Interfering with nature ? Or striving to make the ultimate plant ? My view - although it would be wonderful to be able to add these exotics to our gardens with their different colours and shapes - is that some of the enjoyment would be taken out of our hobby. One thing is for certain, soil warming cables will become a thing of the past!
Robert Gooding, Ipswich, UK

Bubble Wrap
I read with interest the article in Chamaerops 32 regarding winter protection of palms and would like to contribute my own thoughts and ideas in this area. I know that palm enthusiasts fear the effects of cold, wet weather causing rotting as much as they fear extremely low temperatures. As such, many shy away from the use of bubble wrap as an insulating material due to lack of air circulation and condensation.
I have, permanently planted in the ground, a 60cm Chamaerops humilis (2 winters) and a 90cm Phoenix canariensis (1 winter). As advocated in the aforementioned article, there are generally only a few nights or weeks of the year when protection may be required. I therefore leave the crowns tied up but unprotected all winter to prevent such rotting and provide the plants with a "coat" when temperatures of below -3 Celsius are forecast. A 1m-width sheet of double-layered bubble wrap is wrapped around the crown several times in a tubular fashion, tied in place and then the hole at the top of the tube is stuffed with horticultural fleece. This miniature greenhouse also provides a little extra daytime warmth, which is sadly lacking in northern European countries. The only other protection is a mulch of coarse bark chips from late autumn until early spring. Both palms have come through without any damaged foliage to make up, although the last two winters in the U.K. have been relatively mild. The lowest temperature I can recollect being forecast here in the West Midlands, was -6 Celsius. My method has obviously yet to be proven in more prolonged periods of harder frosts, but it is certainly quick and simple and allows me to appreciate the palms for most of the winter.
Alan Hindle, Dudley, UK.

Toasted Tbachycabpus
I have finished reading your article in the Autumn issue concerning the protection of palms in winter. I enjoyed it very much and was very intrigued by the picture of the Trachy's with the toasted leaves. A couple of questions: What kind of sustained temperatures resulted in these burned leaves and how would one go about protecting them? I can understand how you could protect the trunk and growth heart, but the leaves present a special problem. Thanks for your time, and keep up the great work on Chamaerops. It's great to get a European perspective on the fascinating hobby of growing hardy palms, especially in areas like mine (Western Colorado, USA), where they are not supposed to survive.
Lee Lindauer, Grand Junction, Co, US

Killing With Kindness
I refer to the picture of the dying Trachy's on page 4 in Chamaerops no.32. I would like to inform you that it was the result of too much protection for the 4 Trachycarpus fortunei They were covered with plastic for about 3 months and were killed after getting frost at night, and sunshine in the morning and afternoon. The periods during which they were kept open were too short, and fungus severely damaged them until March 1997
- when the picture was taken. They all died in the following months. I would be very pleased, if you would include this on the Letters page in the next issue of Chamaerops so that everybody can see the result of too much protection. I was glad that my own Trachys survived - I forgot to install any protection!
Bernd Schnell, Oberhausen, Germany

Sorry not to have been able to credit Bernd with this picture when it was published. MG

Invitation Down Under
My name is Chris Gray from Brisbane Australia. I would like to invite any members visiting Brisbane to my home. I have numerous palms and cycads growing in my garden. I have been a member of the North Queensland Palm and Cycad Society for 10 years. I am a past President of the said society, and for the past years have been a member of three other palm societies. So if any members are visiting Brisbane feel free to drop by. My address is 3 Kite Crescent, Thornlands, Brisbane, Queensland, 4164. Phone 07 32869140. My work number is 07 32357014.
Chris Gray

Easy On The Nitrogen
Recently there has been a number of letters/ articles about fertilising palms. As a general rule unless you know that a recently bought palm has been hardened off outside in a temperate climate, it is best not to apply much nitrogen in the first year of planting. Success long term in a temperate climate requires that the leaves of the palm become harder, especially as winter approaches. Due to the slow growing rate of most palms there can be an understandable desire to fertilise with nitrogen as soon as possible. One should try to have the nitrogen absorbed before the first frosts. Around the London area where I live I would stop using a granular fertiliser, such as National Growmore, around early August and a liquid one by early September. This should reduce the chance of soft growth being burnt back by frosts.
Martyn Graham, Sutton, UK

Discussion Group
Hello Martin and all at EPS. In a way following on from your editorial in Chamaerops #30, could I perhaps draw your attention, plus perhaps EPS members via the journal Letters page, to a new discussion board on the Internet. As you rightly say, the Internet is crammed full of information, but it is with an extreme bias to the US, and trying to relate their growing conditions and experiences to here in the UK for example isn t always easy or appropriate. In view of this I thought it would be an idea to start a new board for us UK exoticists to pool our knowledge - ask questions, bounce around theories, share experiences. The address is www.insidetheweb.com/mbs.cgi/mb167371 and it is intended to be a place for discussing ALL aspects of growing ALL kinds of exotic plants. What's more it's free!
Paul Spracklin, Essex, UK

Time To Reflect
Last year, at least in Holland, we had a typical Dutch summer, cool weather and lots of rain. Yet, my plants, Palms, Cycads and treeferns, did well. Early this year I rescued a big Trachy, trunk 6 foot, from the dustbin at a garden centre. It served there as an ornamental in the glasshouse. But the owner apparently thought it was time for a change, so he ordered his staff to dig it up and to throw it away. I happened to be there the moment it lay on the ground, completely defoliated and with only a few roots left. On my question if I could take it with me came a positive answer. So I managed to get it into my car. At home I potted it in a big container and I was glad to see that it survived, though growth is still very slow.
Maybe because of all the rain, I had a problem with one of my big Chamaerops humilis, trunk about 4 foot. The new leaves emerge with black spots on both leaves and leafstalks. Most likely a fungus I thought, so several times I gave it a fungicide right in the center of the heart. After a few months the newly emerging leaves didn't show black spots anymore. Plant saved? I surely hope so because I have had it for more than 20 years now and it is a beauty with very small leaves, not much broader than a hand!
I also had a problem with one of my treeferns, a Blechnum tabulare, trunk of 3 foot. It's peculiarly curved trunk was completely eaten through by Saw-bugs just above groundlevel. So I had to cut and repot it; it is now growing new roots, that is, I hope it is.
Here in Holland, we experienced more than a week of pure winter early, with temperatures of about minus I C. I left a few palms outside for a couple of days, but after three nights with temperatures as mentioned, I put them all in the greenhouse. The Trachy's fortunei and Waggy, Chamaerops humilis and Phoenix canariensis and dactylifera and the treeferns Dicksonia antarctica and Blechnum tabulare didn't show any damage, the Washingtonia however was, though still alive, completely defoliated! So next year, the Washingtonia will go inside in time, together with the Butia capitata.
Wim Tacken, Veenendam, Holland

 

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