Martin Gibbons, c/o The Palm Centre

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From where I am sitting on the verandah of our little lodge on the game park in KwaZulu Natal, I can see a small herd of wildebeeste, 2 rhinos on a far hillside, and a whole family of giraffe. I am here in South Africa as guest of the South African Palm Society who have invited me to give a lecture or two at their A.G.M., and prior to this I couldnt miss the opportunity of spending a few days with good friends in Durban who, hospitable as ever, suggested a visit to a game park before the meeting in Johannesburg. Palms are represented in the game park by two endemic species, Phoenix reclinata, which lines many of the waterways, and a species of Hyphaene, with unbranched trunks and blue/green, strongly recurved costapalmate leaves.

I am here with my fiancee, Emma, to whom I popped the question a couple of weeks ago, and a few weeks in South Africa seemed the perfect way for both of us to get over the shock. It also seemed a great place to get away from the dreary weather that has been plaguing the UK for months, indeed, the day before we left it was snowing, albeit gently, with frost at night, and this in the middle of April. Here, it is blissfully warm, not a cloud to be seen in the sky, and a million stars to be seen at night, beautifully complemented by the nocturnal roaring of a distant lion.

The SAPS are an active lot, and before we set off for the game park, we spent a wonderful day visiting no less than 5 private gardens, followed by the Durban Botanic Garden, worth a day by itself. Durban has a wonderful climate, and though truly tropical palms will be zapped here by the first cold night, we did see a superb selection at the different members houses, in fact, everything we can grow (or attempt to grow) in the UK, plus a whole lot more; everything from Trachycarpus to Cyrtostachys renda, the Lipstick palm. Every two or three years these tropical beauties get clobbered, but re-grow again until the next cold spell. We also saw bottles and spindles, triangles, queens and butterflies, umbrellas and majesties in great profusion.

Durban Botanic is a must for cycad enthusiasts; it has a superb collection of giant and aged Encephalartos, not least Encephalartos woodii, described as the rarest Cycad in the world, but annually producing dozens of pups, all, unfortunately, male. Back-crossing with E. natalensis, to which it is closely related will, in time, get as close to pure Woodii as makes no difference. Representatives from the other cycad families: Dioon, Cycas, Zamia, Macrozamia etc. are here in quantity. All this and palms too, plus home-made scones from the volunteer ladies who run the tea shop, make it an essential on the things-to-do list of any self respecting cycad or palm enthusiast who visits this wonderful country. Kew with knobs on.

Regular readers will notice with this issue, that we have changed the format to a larger size with a bigger and therefore much more easily readable typeface. We hope you like the new layout, and will spend less time squinting at the tiny type. A little reminder that Chamaerops is also available on-line will not go amiss here. Visit our website at www.palmsociety.org to get all the information.

I am really pleased with some of the articles in this new expanded issue and I particularly enjoyed Zamias and Chiguas in Colombia. This would be the most wonderful country to visit but as the author points out with great clarity, it is an extremely dangerous place to be, especially off the beaten track, and no cycad is worth the risk of kidnapping to find. I well remember our short visit there a few years back, driving around in a bright green, obviously rented car which positively screamed "Tourists". We took a quick drive to see the wonderful Ceroxylon quinduiense, then scuttled back out of the country, never so glad to leave anywhere.
I hope you will enjoy this new issue as we go into our second decade. M.G.

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  02-02-23 - 12:18GMT
 What's New?
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 Date: 24-05-2004

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