I collected seed from below some large and beautiful mature Trachycarpus at Abbotsbury Botanic
Garden 6 or 7 years ago and was amazed at the variation in the plants that grew. Whilst the majority are regular
T. fortunei, some have bizarre hastulas, some creep, some are burnt by frost at 5°C , and two plants
have leaves that detach when the leaf dies. One only has to wander amongst the much more consistent young T.
fortunei grown from pure Chinese seed at the Palm Centre to realise that something is very different. Is it
possible that these unusual palms are F2 hybrid Trachycarpus and not T. fortunei at all? After all, F2 offspring
of hybrid plants of any species will display considerable variation that is not apparent in the F1 generations.
Very often the variability grows with each successive generation. This variation in the offspring could well
be a clue as to the genetic make up of those old Trachycarpus growing in our parks and gardens and provides
a very strong explanation as to why people are finding palms with T. takil-like traits, and also explains the
considerable variability generally observed in the T. fortunei species.
This brings me to the question regarding T. fortunei raised earlier. Exactly how many of the plants that we
grow and regard as T. fortunei are, in fact, hybrids? A recent discussion on the Pacific North West forum centred
on an enthusiast who visited China and claimed to have discovered T. takil has led me to an alarming conclusion.
He found Trachycarpus so consistently big and different that he believes they fit the T. takil description of
larger in all their parts with a bare trunk. If we go along with the scientific theory that Trachycarpus
as a single species evolved over millions of years all along the Himalayan foothills into several different
species , then clearly they cannot be T. takil. So what are they? My own conclusion (contentious though it may
be) is that he has found true T. fortunei unaffected by hybridisation, which, like T. takil, are larger in all
their parts. Having grown up with T. fortunei as a very variable species and faced with such a large stand of
trees in habitat, this would be an easy mistake for any enthusiast to make. Personally, I find this all very
alarming, because if my observations are correct, the evolutionary process that has created these magnificent
palms over millions of years has been reversed in a couple of our generations.