Martin Gibbons, c/o The Palm Centre

This is a special issue of Chamaerops in two ways. To begin with, it is a double issue, an attempt to bring the publication up to date after such a long delay. Second, for the first time ever, the magazine is devoted entirely to one genus, Trachycarpus. Don't worry, the name change is only temporary! Much of the information published here appears for the first time in Chamaerops. Much of it has appeared elsewhere, but this is the first time it has all been published together in the European Palm Society journal, and we hope that all members will appreciate the summary.

The Trachycarpus trail, which began with T. takil and ended, albeit temporarily, with T. latisectus, is a long and interesting one. The first step which was done by Wilko Karmelk of Holland and myself, was into the north of central India to try to shed light on a mystery that, it seemed, nobody else had exhibited much interest in solving. What was this odd palm, misnamed by the Americans for so long? Was there actually a real T. takil under all the misnaming? What was the connection between T. takil and T. martianus, the names seemingly used synonymously in the many publications that we consulted before setting off? Well that puzzle is well and truly solved though our friends in the States still insist on misnaming T. wagnerianus as T. takil, despite us taking every possible opportunity to explain the mistake to them. I am happy to say that we regularly import seed, and that the genuine T. takil is more and more widely available though regrettably, because of its close botanic relationship with T. fortunei, it is likely to inter-breed and its special characteristics will be lost.

The next species that beckoned was the diminutive T. nanus of China. It took two trips there to find it, but find it we did, Toby Spanner and I. It too, seems to be in danger, this time from the many semi-wild goats that roam the area where it grows. They eat the inflorescences before the plants, only about 60 or 80cm tall at maturity, have a chance to set seed. T. nanus that are now growing in cultivation seem to perform poorly, grow very slowly, and scarcely offer the opportunity to save the species from extinction.

Soon after those travels Toby and I were to find the first of three new species of Trachycarpus. On perhaps the most exciting trip of all, we discovered what we would name T. princeps growing on steep cliff faces on the banks of the Salween River, almost at the point where China, Burma and Tibet meet, a bit of a political hot spot. An account of our first, abortive, effort to reach the area (deep in China's 'forbidden territory') was not even published in the official version reproduced here. How we found ourselves climbing a 3500m mountain range, dodging Chinese border guards and nearly getting ourselves arrested, before finally being sent packing, was a real adventure in itself. The trees, alas, seem doomed never to reach cultivation. The seed set is poor, the area almost impossible to reach.

Not so with T. martianus, ridiculously rare in cultivation, ridiculously common in the wild, like so many other palms. That situation is changing fast, with hundreds of thousands of seeds being traded every year and subsequent plants growing well and happily. We found two major populations, one in northeast India and the other in Nepal. Due to breathtakingly bad planning the latter produced another 'adventure' if it could be called such, with Toby and I walking for 20 hours in Nepal with scarcely a break. Almost dead with fatigue, we staggered back to our 'hotel' for a few hours' snatched sleep, only to be up to catch the bumpy bus that would take us to the airport and home.

During our travels far and wide we came across two more species, new to science: T. oreophilus and T. latisectus, in Thailand and India respectively. Neither performs well in cultivation while they are young. A hundred seedlings defoliated when they were re-potted. It is fervently hoped that these teething troubles will sort themselves out as the plants get older, the latter certainly is a beautiful palm and well deserves a place in the garden.

Finally, T. wagnerianus, not (yet?) known in the wild, but one of the best species. With its short stiff leaves, it is more wild tolerant than any of the others, performs well and grows fast, the only problem being a (hopefully temporary) shortage of both seeds and plants.
There are many memories on the Trachycarpus trail, most happy, a few sad. There are enough adventures to fill a book, which we have been promising ourselves to write, for years. Alas, until there are 8 days in the week and 48 hours in the day, it will remain a dream for the time being. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy this issue. M.G.


  28-01-23 - 22:44GMT
 What's New?
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 Date: 24-05-2004

An Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms
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'Palmen in Mitteleuropa'
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This german book tells you all about how to cultivate your palms in Central Europe. more...