Interview with the Editor
IMG: How does princeps differ from other species
Martin: It is unique because it has a waxy white
underside to the leaves. You can literally scrape it off with a
fingernail. It is very distinctive in that respect. It grows on
the banks of the Salween River, now the Nu Jiang river ("Angry
River"), which starts in the Himalayas and empties out into
the Gulf of Martaban in Burma. It grows in the most spectacular
setting: it's as though there was a range of mountains and a giant
took a huge axe and cut a great gouge in the mountain with the river
now running through the bottom. These almost sheer rock faces are
700 or 800 ft tall and T. princeps grows on one of these rock faces.
IMG: What is the most cold hardy of the Trachycarpus
Martin: Takil is probably the most cold hardy species.
It's from central northern India where it grows on a hillside near
a place named Pithoraghar, which these days is a trekking resort.
It grows at a high altitude, about 2400 m, where it is said to be
covered in snow from November to March and consequently should be
an extremely hardy palm. It was 5ūC when we were there in October
and it gets progressively colder through November onwards, until
it is bitterly cold in the depths of winter. Old records describe
them growing in great clumps and rows, but we only found seedlings.
We learned that all the adult trees had been cut down in recent
years. To think that in the space of fifty years it has gone from
hundreds and hundreds of mature trees down to a few hundred seedlings
is a terrible tragedy.
IMG: Which species would rival the ubiquitous
fortunei in time and why?
Martin: Fortunei has two serious rivals. The first
is wagnerianus because the leaves are so stiff, it's fast growing
once it gets to a reasonable size, and its much more wind
tolerant--which is the main weakness of fortunei. I think it will
rival fortunei as soon as it is more widely available. The other
one is T. latisectus which we found in north-east India. That has
much broader leaf segments than fortunei, it has a bare trunk which
to my mind is more attractive, it's very fast growing, and has glossy
leaves. It's such a beautiful palm and I think when it becomes more
widely available it will rival fortunei.
IMG: How hardy is it likely to be?
Martin: No test has yet been done on its cold hardiness,
as there are none growing outside the Kalimpong area, but I believe
it will probably be almost as hardy as fortunei.
IMG: What prompted you to look for it?
Martin: A botanist from the Edinburgh botanic garden
told us about two strange Trachycarpus palm trees that were growing
at the entrance to the famous Windermere Hotel in Darjeeling. We
were on a trip in India and decided to go up there and take a look
at them. We thought we would be able to identify them at a glance,
but in fact we didn't have a clue as to what they were. They were
certainly Trachycarpus. We knew everything that they weren't. They
certainly weren't takil, they weren't fortunei. We wondered whether
they could possibly be hybrids. We decided to leave that particular
problem for a while. Later we were in Kalimpong in north-east India
and were staying in the Everest Lodge, and there was one of these
trees in the garden. It was so much like the other two we realised
immediately that it must be a new species. We decided to call it
latisectus which means 'broad segment' and refers to the broad segments
of the leaves.
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