Martin Gibbons searches for the Chusan Palm's
long lost brother. by Martin Gibbons, Ham Street, Ham, Richmond,
Surrey, TW10 7HA, UK firstname.lastname@example.org Chamaerops No.35-36, published online 15-04-2000
Wilko Karmelk of Holland and I had, independently,
become interested in the Trachycarpus genus over a number of years.
Finding we had this strong interest in common, we resolved to attempt
to solve part of the puzzle, and to go in search of T. takil, and
try and shine some light into this dark corner of the genus.
Late in 1990 I received through the post a number
of photocopies, made by Wilko in the Amsterdam library. They were
from a selection of old botanical publications: The Gardeners
Chronicle of 1886; Kew Bulletin 1912; Indian
Trees by Brandis 1906; Flora of British India
by J.D.Hooker 1894, and others. They all mentioned Trachycarpus
palms, calling them variously Chamaerops excelsa, C. martianus,
C.griffithii, C.fortunei, Trachycarpus martianus, T.takil, etc.
and they all alluded to an isolated population that grew in Northern
In our subsequent researches we never discovered who wrote the original
description of the precise locality, but all the old books we read
tended to quote the same words, "grows in great numbers, forming
clumps and rows, on the Thakil Mountain in Eastern Kumaon, in the
fork between the Sarju and Kali rivers, between 6,500 ft and 7,800
ft, where snow generally covers the ground from November to March....in
damp shady glens.. .chiefly on the north-west side.
On a trekking map we located the two rivers, in
Kumaon Province, Uttar Pradesh, about 300 miles north-east of New
Delhi, near a village called Pithoragarh. There, in the fork between
them, was an unnamed mountain, with a height of 8166 feet above
sea level. As there were no others in the vicinity this had to be
Mount Thakil. It was around this time that we learned that "thakil"
is a Hindi word meaning "palm." The chance therefore of
seeing "Palm Mountain" presented a very exciting prospect
We left Londons Heathrow airport on October
14th for the flight to India, stopping en route at Prague, Czechoslovakia,
and Kabul, Afghanistan. Due to fog and problems with the plane,
we were delayed at the former for some 24 hours, but at least we
had an opportunity to look round this recently emancipated city,
which was very beautiful.
Our original intention had been to spend a day sightseeing
in New Delhi, but because of the lost time we were eager to be on
our way. We arrived at 10pm at night, and at 6.30 the following
morning we were on a slow moving, east-bound train.
Indian trains leave much to be desired and they
are certainly not for the squeamish. Even in first-class, the seats
are hard and uncomfortable; the compartments, which are open, get
grossly overcrowded; and people in rags sleep anywhere on the floor,
amongst the food refuse that the other passengers continually drop.
At each station, beggars and food vendors get on board doing what
beggars and food vendors do, leaving the train at the next station,
and presumably getting the next train back.
The stops were frequent and interminable, the countryside
flat, brown and drab. Phoenix sylvestris was frequently seen from
the window, but even that lost its appeal after the first few hundred
had been sighted. After 8 hours we arrived at Bareilly and had had
enough. We left the train hoping we didn't look too much like rich
Americans abroad, and attempted to find a taxi to take us the rest
of the way. In this we succeeded and found a mini-bus whose driver
agreed to take us to Pithoragarh, some 9 hours drive away, for a
mere 1000 rupees (£25/$50). In London this would just about
get you to Heathrow airport.
We left Bareilly at about 3pm. The landscape was
continually flat and uninteresting until we reached a town called
Tanakpur when it changed dramatically, and we began to climb. We
had left the interminable Indian plains and were at last in the
hills. As the landscape changed, so did the vegetation. Endless
fields gave way to forests, and farms to wooded hillsides. We began
to see the Deodar (Cedrus deodara) and the beautiful Pinus longifolia,
and the air smelt cooler and fresher after the stifling heat of
the plains. We saw rushing rivers and deep, deep gorges, and drove
carefully round one hairpin bend after another, on a good, modern