Interview with the Editor

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 online 01-07-2000

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. Let‘s 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 Vietnam.

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 and why?

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.

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