Your editor, interviewed by Imtiaz McDoom Gafoor,
talks about his adventures in palmland in the first of two chats
about the world of palms and his part in it. by Imtiaz McDoom-Gafoor, London, UK from Chamaerops No.37 Winter 2000, published
We are approaching the 9th anniversary of the formation
of the European Palm Society and so I thought it would be a suitable
opportunity to interview our editor. On a recent visit to the Palm
Centre I interviewed Martin and we explored such subjects as the
European Palm Society, The Palm Centre, and of course his many palm
expeditions abroad which have introduced so many new palms into
cultivation. In this issue we cover most of the exciting new palms
and other exotic plants, and how they were discovered and made available
to cultivation. In the next issue we look at the challenges of palm
exploration, the formation of the European Palm Society, the Palm
Centre and other matters.
IMG: You are associated with introducing several
new species of palms into cultivation. Lets examine some of
these starting with the genus Trachycarpus. What prompted you to
get involved with Trachycarpus and where is it found?
Martin: Investigating Trachycarpus was a spin off
of starting the Palm Centre. My first love is hardy palms and it
was discovering which species could be successfully grown outdoors
in the UK that prompted my explorations. I knew there were several
other species of Trachycarpus that were written about but there
seemed to be very little in cultivation. I developed a passion for
Trachycarpus and over the next seven years I went on several major
expeditions to try and find the different species.
Trachycarpus grows in a broad band across the foothills of the Himalayas
from west to east. There is T. takil in the extreme west in western
Nepal and northern India, and T. nanus at the other end. The genus
grows across Nepal into north-east India, Sikkim, Burma, Thailand
and China. I also suspect that there are more, undiscovered species
of Trachycarpus where the Himalayan mountains taper out, over towards
IMG: Who do you travel with?
Martin: Most of my trips were done with Toby Spanner
who has a nursery similar to the Palm Centre, in Munich in Germany.
Our passion for Trachycarpus developed simultaneously.
IMG: What is your favourite Trachycarpus species
Martin: My favourite species would probably be the
most obscure of them all, which is T. princeps, which grows where
China, Tibet, and Burma meet. It is the most difficult to get to
and is in a politically very sensitive area. We were able to find
and name it but we were only able to find two seeds despite a thorough
search. It will be a long time before it comes into cultivation
because of the remoteness of the area.
IMG: Why is Trachycarpus princeps not in cultivation
outside of its native area?
Martin: It grows in an extremely remote and difficult
place which is absolutely off limits to foreigners. The first time
we tried to get to it we were picked up by the police and returned
in no uncertain fashion to civilisation. Although we subsequently
went on an officially sanctioned expedition when we were able to
find it, we haven't been able to get back since. The other reason
is that they seem to seed so sparingly. We found only a few seeds
although at that time of year you would have expected to find lots.
I also know two or three Chinese people who have gone back since
and they also report the paucity of seeds, so I think it will be
a long time before they come into cultivation.