IMG: What is the difference between Trachycarpus
martianus 'Khasia Hills' and Nepal forms and where have
you seen them?
Martin: They are very similar, one being slightly
finer, and the Nepal form being slightly hardier as it grows at
higher altitudes. They are both actually the same species although
at one time they were considered different species. One was called
Trachycarpus martianus, the other Trachycarpus khasianus. They have
since been lumped together and I think for good reason. They grow
at a fairly high altitude. The one that grows near Shillong in Meghalaya
province is on the side of a very steep valley and is shrouded in
mist for half a day which gives an indication of its requirements.
Again it is in an absolutely beautiful setting; you drive along
a plateau and then this very steep valley begins. You can look down
into this valley and at the far end you can see Bangladesh, which
the whole plateau overlooks. The other species, martianus Nepal
form, grows not far from a popular trekking route in Nepal. The
route goes around Annapurna and you can see the palms from this
trekking route. So we went along with the other trekkers with our
rucksacks and climbing gear, but whereas they went along the path
we headed up into the hills. We climbed up these rock faces and
after two or three hours we were in an area where there were just
hundreds and hundreds of them. They were in an incredibly beautiful
area; these palms choose really beautiful places in which to grow,
or maybe they simply make the area beautiful.
IMG: Trachycarpus oreophilus is yet another new
species that you have discovered. Where is it found?
Martin: Oreophilus grows on a mountaintop in northern
Thailand. The mountain is called Doi Chiang Dao, and it grows near
the city of Chiang Mai which is the second city after Bangkok. It
had been known about for years and for a long time it was considered
to be a species of Livistona. Then it was decided it was Trachycarpus
martianus and was given that name in the absence of herbarium material.
We went up there two or three times, though it's a killingly difficult
4 hour climb. It's very wet, it rains, the sun comes out, it rains
again, the sun comes out. So all the time you are soaked and then
you are dried out and soaked again and dried out. Again, it's an
area of unbelievable beauty. You get up to the top and you can see
all these Trachycarpus growing on limestone cliff tops, in little
crevices, on ledges and they get absolutely battered about by the
wind so nobody knows what they look like in cultivation in a sheltered
position. A close inspection revealed them to be a new species.
We named them oeophilus which means cloud-loving.
There are none anywhere in the world apart from those which came
from our original collection. When the plants we have collected
have started to grow they will show their true colours and I'm sure
they will look quite distinctive.
IMG: Where have you seen the best example of
Trachycarpus growing in cultivation outside of its native Asia?
Martin: Without a doubt, around the lakes in Switzerland
and northern Italy. They reach perfection and look better than they
do in the wild. In fact, palms generally look better in cultivation
than they do in the wild. The Trachycarpus around the north Italian
and Swiss lakes look absolutely gorgeous, almost like a different
species. I put that down to the absence of wind and also the high
humidity caused by the lakes. I have never seen a single fortunei
in England that looks half as good as most of the fortunei in northern
Italy and southern Switzerland.