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Completely Hardy

Rev. Geoffrey F. Squire

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One winter afternoon about three years ago, I was driving through a suburb of Torquay when the light on a set of temporary traffic lights changed to red. As I waited there I glanced around at the houses and was amazed to see what appeared to be a tall Rhopalostylis sapida growing in the corner of the walls of a large house and just visible above the tall boundary walls.

I had heard that one or two of these used to grow in the area but were killed by an exceptionally cold night in February 1987, so I was quite excited about this find, and resolved to return again on a brighter day with a camera to photograph some for possible publication in Chamaerops.

Early the following spring I was in the area on a bright afternoon, and set off walking around, camera in hand, to try to relocate the palm. After walking around the area for about an hour without finding it, I gave up. Over the months following I made two more attempts, but with no luck. Then, a few weeks ago, I was driving a minibus through the area and suddenly spotted it. I realized that I needed the raised seat of the minibus to see it over the high garden walls.

I parked around the corner and returned, with my camera, to the house. I rang the front door bell to explain my interest in the palm to a very pleasant woman who seemed to find my interest amusing. She took me around the corner, and there it was. It stood about 5m, but was of a somewhat different species than I anticipated, one that should be completely hardy in all regions south of the Arctic Circle.

It was Rhopalostylis sapida, variety "Plastica," and was "growing" in a solid block of concrete! The whole thing was made of plastic with a sectional screw-together trunk, and was once used by the woman's husband for a series of trade exhibitions in relation to New Zealand.

At a recent local fair I saw 3/4m high plastic "Fan Palms" (very good copies of small Trachycarpus) for sale in plastic pots. At that same fair I also saw a stall selling similarly sized but real live "Garden Palms," which were not the incorrectly named "Westcountry Palms," Cordyline australis, but Phoenix canariensis.

With the ability to reproduce, in plastic and with an amazing degree of accuracy, things like leaves, flowers, and palms, I suppose that it is only a matter of time before plastic coconut palms are seen along the seafront of some East-coast resort or amusement park. I am sure that the readers of Chamaerops, however, will consider the possibility of some of those Phoenix canariensis growing to maturity somewhere in North Devon to be much more exciting.

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