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Juania australis at 53 N Latitude

by David Robinson, Baron's Brae, Ceanchor Road, Baily, Co. Dublin, Ireland
Chamaerops No. 43-44, published online 05-08-2002

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Pictures: The elusive Juania australis, growing happily in Ireland.

'Take this palm, Juania australis. It won't survive with you; it doesn't even grow at Tresco in the Isles of Scilly, but try it anyway. ' These were the parting words and friendly challenge from Chris Bayliss, Curator of the Royal Horticultural Society's Gardens at Rosemoor, Devon, England, as I left following a brief visit to the Gardens in September 1995. The young plant had been raised from seed collected in Chile by Lady Anne Berry, who had donated her three hectare renowned garden at Rosemoor to the Royal Horticultural Society.

Back in Ireland I tried to find out something about my new acquisition, a small, pinnate-leafed plant 40 cm high in a 20 cm pot. Information was nonexistent in my normal reference books, such as the New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening and W.J. Bean's Trees and shrubs hardy in the British Isles, and information was sparse in several books on palms. I did learn, however, that Juania australis is native of the Juan Fernandez (Robinson Crusoe's) island, but is now practically extinct there.

I planted the small palm in a sheltered location about 1 m from a 1.5 m high wall. The plant gets some morning and evening sun but is partly protected from midday sun by a 5 m high Dodonea viscosa 'Purpurea' to the south and from north winds by a 10 m high self seeded Eucalyptus cordata. Planted in September 1995, the Juania has grown well and has shown no signs of cold or wind damage throughout this period. It is now about 2.5 m tall with leaves up to 2.2 m in length.

Although I had been warned that the Juania was rare and difficult to grow, I gave it only the standard treatment afforded to all other trees and shrubs in my garden. The roots at the bottom of the pot were carefully disentangled and spread out in the planting hole, but no fertilizer was applied, either at planting or at any time afterwards. The small plant was kept free from competing weeds, mainly by careful spot treatment with the herbicide glyphosate, and the ground was not disturbed to avoid any root injury. No supplementary watering in summer or frost protection in winter was given.
I do not use insecticides or fungicides on any ornamental plants as these are generally unnecessary under our cool, temperate climatic conditions. In any case, the Juania showed no signs of pests or diseases and was completely trouble free.

As can be seen from my web site www.earlscliffe.com, my garden is situated on a peninsula just north of Dublin, Ireland. The Hill of Howth rises to a height of 180 m to the north and provides important shelter from cold northerly winds. On the south side the land extends down to high watermark. This fortunate situation along with the influence of the warm North Atlantic drift is responsible for the favourable microclimate. Air frosts occur regularly, generally between early December and mid April. The lowest winter minimum is usually about -4 C but, in December 1995, three months after planting, the temperature fell to -7.5 C, the lowest temperature recorded here since records began in 1969. The recent 2000/01 winter was also exceptionally severe when the temperature fell to -7 C in December and did not rise above - 3 C for three days. These low temperatures had no apparent adverse effect on the young plant.

Because of the proximity of the sea, summer temperatures are moderate, seldom exceeding 25 C. The absolute maximum recorded since 1969 is 27.5 C in August 1995. Average annual rainfall is a moderate 650 mm spread fairly evenly throughout the year and periods of drought are rare.

The soil is derived from Cambrian shale and quartzite and contains approximately 25% clay and 4.5% organic matter in the top 8 cm. It is mostly acid to neutral (pH 5.0 - 6.5), in contrast to the alkalinity of most of County Dublin.

At present, Juania australis is growing more vigorously than any other member of the family Palmae in my garden. The Chusan Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) is normally accepted as the most hardy palm growing in Ireland, but its speed of growth is less than that of Juania. I also grow the Mediterranean Fan Palm (Chamaerops humilis) and the Chilean Wine Palm (Jubaea chilensis), but these and other genera, such as Brahea and Butia, are slow growing.

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