The tried and trusted explanation is that Trachycarpus fortunei is an extremely variable species
and all of these traits are within its natural range of variation. Indeed, a number of growers of young T. fortunei
plants have claimed to observe the twisted hastula and creeping of the young plant. This, however, leads to
another question that I will raise later. It should also be pointed out that the twisted hastula does not appear
to manifest itself in all T. takils grown from Indian seed, as of yet. The T. fortunei itself is also very variable
in size, a huge T. fortunei being documented in the European Palm Society journal several years ago.
I believe there is another explanation for these variations. In the Victorian planthunting era many Trachycarpus
were brought back from China and India, and some of these palms survive today. I have already mentioned the
Rome Botanic Garden T. takil, but what happened to the rest of the seed? What not many people know is that although
T. takil was first identified as a separate species by Beccari from plants grown from that seed in 1887, the
plants had already been incorrectly identified as Trachycarpus martianus, and seed was sent back from India
between 1830 and 1850 by Major Edward Madden and almost certainly planted in our parks and gardens at that time.
Clearly other plants also found their way into European gardens. What became of them? These palms were probably
planted in proximity to other Trachycarpus species in the late nineteenth century and hybridised. We are fortunate
today to be able to easily buy seed from all over the world, but early in the twentieth century, with war and
closed borders, seed would have been much harder to come by, and much seed would probably have come from these
very same palms in European botanic gardens. As Trachycarpus hybridises readily, it is likely that the seed
collected from early T. fortunei was in fact occasionally cross pollinated with other species present at that
time. It is likely that a number of mature Trachycarpus in our botanic gardens today are F1 hybrid Trachycarpus
produced from those first Trachycarpus palms introduced in the Victorian planthunting era.
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