The Thailand Trachycarpus

Your editor takes a trip to Thailand to investigate the occurrence of an unusual species of Trachycarpus.
by Martin Gibbons, Ham Street, Ham, Richmond, Surrey, TW10 7HA, UK
Chamaerops No. 9, published online 23-09-2002

Left: The 'Dio Chiang Dao Trachycarpus' leans out from the sheer rock face in characteristic fashion. This one is about 25 feet tall.
Right top: Silhouette of the 'Dio Chiang Dao Trachycarpus' leaf, showing regular leaf splits.
Right below, left: Dio Chiang Dao
Right below, right: Cycas pectinata.

When Dr. John Dransfield of Kew told me that there was 'a Trachycarpus' growing in northern Thailand that 'needed investigating' it seemed a heaven-sent way to fill the four spare days at the end of the trip to China that Toby Spanner of Munich and I had undertaken to find Trachycarpus nanus. He, John, told me that the palm had originally been 'discovered' in the 1920's and was well known to the Thai Forestry Department, but that it had been mistakenly classified as a Livistona, and its description, together with a black-&-white photograph, had languished in the herbarium at Kew until the seventies when he spotted the mistake. It was certainly a Trachycarpus and in the absence of seed material, which would indicate which, it was classified as T. martianus, which it certainly resembled. This assumption was proven wrong when some seeds arrived for inspection (they were reniform as opposed to the T. martianus' oval & grooved) and a question mark has hung over its true identity ever since. This puzzle could have been invented for Toby & I, and we gladly took up the challenge to throw some more light on the subject.

John kindly suggested the names of two botanists in Bangkok who might be able to help us, and a visit to one of them on our arrival in Thailand led to us meeting Rachun Pooma of the Royal Thai Forestry Department, who knew of this palm but had never, until now, had the opportunity to visit the site where it grows.

Rachun was extremely helpful, meeting us at Chiang Mai airport, accommodating us at his residence, and taking us out that first evening for a splendid Thai meal, complete with Singha beer. Wonderful! Between ourselves, I think he was just as excited at the prospect of a trip 'up country' as we were, and he certainly could not have organized the expedition any better. The following day, he arranged to borrow a huge 4-wheel-drive jeep, complete with driver, and to pick up a couple of guides en route. We set off at lOam, stopping on the way to get supplies for the two days we would be away. We then drove out of Chiang Mai and after a couple of hours turned into a side road, heading for the mountain range, where grew our quarry.

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