Interview with the Editor

(page 2)

IMG: How does princeps differ from other species of Trachycarpus?

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 species?

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 it‘s 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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