And Now, Here's The Weather
Just when winter is fading from memory, a comprehensive
reminder of just how bad it was.
Chamaerops No. 2, published online 23-11-2002
on this article:
Click here to read them or to add your own.
Toughing it out: Trachycarpus learns it's snow
Last February s weather hit fast and hit hard. A
big anticyclone over Scandinavia and low pressure over the Mediterranean
induced a wind flow from east to west, bringing extremely cold air
from the steppes of Russia over all of Europe. In many places it
was the coldest for 4 years.
The article that follows is a round-up from 15 of
our members living around the continent:
First, Philippe Byrne in Exeter, United Kingdom
"In the South West of the U.K. the winter was
mild with the exception of 2 cold weeks in February when the temperature
fell to -9¾C on the night of February 9th. Daytime temperatures
hovered around freezing for over a week. Snowfall was light but
there was a bitter east wind.
"Outside, trachycarpus fortunei was totally
unaffected as were Cordyline australis (which were cut to the ground
4 years ago). Chamaerops leaves were somewhat yellowed but my 15
year old plant stood up well to the weather.
"Washingtonia filiferas were protected with
a good packing of straw around the trunk. Leaves unprotected by
the straw are quite brown and dead, but by mid-March new green growth
is already pushing up. My verdict - keep trying."
Eric Speybroeck in North West Belgium
"Our normal winter is similar to that of south
east England except that we have more sun, less rain and less snow.
This means warmer in the summer (sometimes 5 to 10 days with temperatures
around 30/32¾C), and colder in the winter, that is normally one
or two weeks with -7¾ to -10¾ (exceptionally, as in '85 and '86
we had -18¾ to -20¾).
"This winter the lowest temperature we had
was -13¾ on the 7th and 9th of February, separated by a low of -8¾
on the 8th. On the other days of the cold snap (from 4th and 19th)
the lows ranged between -6¾ and -8¾.
"Trachycarpus fortunei came through unharmed
of course, and without protection. But even some of the palms that
were protected suffered badly: Livistona australis, Phoenix canariensis,
and Washingtonia filifera. Others, Brahea armata, Sabal spp., Jubaea,
Trithrinax etc. we'll have to wait to see."
Dr Nathan Hindley writes from Portugal:
"I live in the Algarve near Lagos in the South
of Portugal, some four hundred metres from the ocean and over the
last four years as a hobby I have been growing palms from seed,
collected in various parts of the globe.
"The region is characterized by a long dry
season from May to October and in between, particularly over the
last two winters, frequent storms with occasional high winds and
copious rainfall. Minimum winters are usually in the order of 4
to 8¾C, and when we have high pressure there is a prevailing wind
from the north. This winter, although we were saved most of the
bad weather experienced by central and northern Europe, we did experience
temperatures as low as 2¾C, which is cold for us. "In general
all members of Phoenix do well here, as do Livistonas including
L. rigida, which has beautiful red leaves. They suffered not at
all in the winter storms. The two Washingtonias are of course very
resistant and fast growing, but the fastest growers are undoubtedly
the two Archontophoenix species, from Australia."
N. Nash writes from North Wales:
"I've been experimenting with Phoenix canariensis
to see how hardy it is. Some years ago I bought two in a pot, one
bigger than the other. I separated them, re-potted the larger one,
and planted the other directly into the ground in the garden.
"That was five years ago, and it's thriving,
even though this February we've had cold, hard frosts every night
for about two weeks, and hardly getting above freezing by day. One
night it dropped down to -8, the following day it didn't get above
-6¾ and that night it went down to -10¾. By this time I was feeling
a bit sorry for the Phoenix, so I went out and threw an old blanket
over it. I don't think it did much to keep the frost out, but it
made me feel a lot better!
"All that cold frosty weather seems to have
done it no harm whatsoever, so I think that Phoenix canariensis
could be hardy in many parts of the country, especially here, as
we don't often get really bad winters in this part of N. Wales.
"By the way, it's outgrown its big brother
which is in a 40cm tub (brought inside during the winter). The one
in the ground is 120cm high, and the one in the tub 90cm."
Gaetano Infantino writes from Rome, Italy:
"Snowfalls in Genoa, Savona, and even in San
Remo! I saw the famous palms of the Casino gracefully covered by
frothy snow, which appeared such a contrast with the dark, slender
trunks of many palms, especially Washingtonia, Brahea and Arecastrum.
However, they seemed not to suffer at all.
"Actually, temperatures weren't so low as in
1985, and the sun melted the ice before it could do much damage.
However Milan had two serious snowfalls, one in early November and
one in late January, when the dropped to -13¾. Here in Rome we only
had to put up with -4, so no damage to report to the many palms
which adorn gardens and squares, especially Phoenix, Washingtonia,
Butia, and Chamaerops.
"I'm just waiting now for another beautiful
summer to see how many of the palms in my own collection (in Nettuno,
near Rome) will flower and set fruit. But I have good reason to
be optimistic, thanks to the lack of serious cold. I think we were
let off lightly"
From Sweden, Kjell Persson:
"I live in south Sweden, between Gothenburg
and Botas, 148m altitude. Normal winters here are not very cold
by Swedish standards; usually the minimum is around -20¾C, and in
Gothenburg itself, perhaps a little milder, say, -15 or -16¾. In
1987 the lowest was -28¾C. Normally the snow cover is between 10
and 40cm and this occurs between November and March.
"This winter was in fact rather mild, although
February was about average. The lowest in January was -9¾C; February
had 16¾ with many days of frost but little snow, only 5-10cm.
"I grow all my palms in pots and containers.
I have had one Chamaerops outside in a pot in the ground from February
18th 1990 until January 20th 1991 with little protection. It's had
no damage despite frost day and night for many days. This has encouraged
me to try Trachycarpus in the ground this year also. But I would
hate to lose it as they are very difficult to come by in Sweden."
From Madrid, Spain, Santiago Pajaron writes:
"The weather in Spain has been colder than
in other years, especially during February. There have been some
very cold years with very low temperatures, down to -20¾C in some
places. This year was not as bad as all that, but the cold did reach
the whole country. And those low temperatures were accompanied by
a fair amount of snow even in places like Malaga, the 'Costa del
Sol' and the mountains near Seville, which is very rare. We even
saw 'Palmitos' (Chamaerops humilis) covered with snow, an unusual
and bizarre sight."
Donald Hare, from Dublin, Ireland:
"Here in Ireland we were spared the worst of
the dreadful weather the rest of the British Isles had in February.
Although around 10cm (4") of snow fell in Dublin between the
7th and 9th of February, this had melted by the 12th. Air temperature
on a couple of nights fell to between -9¾ inland and -4¾ on the
coast with day time temperatures for the same period ranging between
0¾ and +4¾.
"Our normal temperature on the coldest winter
nights varies between +2¾ and -4¾ on the coast and -6¾ to -8¾ inland
with daytime temperatures of +2¾ to +7¾.
"No damage has ever occurred on Trachycarpus
fortunei, and when Chamaerops humilis is grown near the coast, and
given adequate shelter from the easterly winds along with good drainage,
it seems reasonably hardy. Phoenix canariensis grows in a few very
sheltered South and South-west gardens, but suffers severe windburn
in winters like 1987 which was the worst this century for that area,
-7.2¾C being recorded."
From the Cote d'Azur, France, Alain Moinié
"The French Riviera is really a series of micro-climates,
so the cold weather had a different effect in different places,
but certainly no palm trees were lost during February s cold.
"In Hyeres, in very protected places, the temperature
dropped no lower than -2¾, but in more exposed spots, -4¾ to -5¾
was recorded. However, the frost melted as soon as the sun rose.
"In Presqu'ile de Giens the minimum seems to
have been +5¾, but in Frejus (80km to the east) on the coast, but
less protected, they had -7¾. So, a bit of a mixture. In Nice and
Antibes, they even had snow for a day."
From Corsica, Jacques Deleuze:
"Of course, temperatures down here in Corsica
are much less damaging than exactly the same temperatures in Northern
Europe, and this fact should always be born in mind when making
comparisons. Here, the December mean temperature was 3¾C below average
and January's was 1.5¾ below average. Thus, most of the plants were
dormant when the cold snap of February occurred.
"The night temperature on the 7th went down
to -1.5¾ (mildest spot) and to -5¾ (coldest spot) which is actually
about the same as I recorded in '84/85. The rest of the week was
warmer with no frost but then the next week we had another cold
spell with frost and a weekly mean temperature of 0¾ in the coldest
part of the garden. As a result, the most tender palms: Ptychosperma,
Hyophorbe, Neodypsis, Caryota etc., had their leaves burnt. However,
all the others showed no damage and are already growing away nicely."
Thomas Baumgartner, from Austria:
"Austria is used to quite cold winters due
to its continental, and in higher parts, alpine climate. As an example,
the average statistics for the Vienna region (one of the milder
areas) tell of about 82 (lays of frost, night lows of -10¾, and
46 days of snow cover of 30-40cm.
"In common with most of Europe, the last two
winters were quite mild, but this year it was unusually cold with
lows down to -17¾ in Vienna during February. Fortunately this cold
period did not last long, and conditions soon normalized.
"As you can imagine, this is not the ideal
climate for growing palms out of doors, and the few attempts that
have been made have been unsuccessful. In this country, we palm
enthusiasts have to content ourselves with potted specimens kept
outside during the warmer months, and brought in during the winter"
From Hampstead, North London, Peter Tenenbaum:
"The big February freeze with well, over a
week of sub-zero temperatures and a night minimum of -12¾, (and
this in the warmest part of the garden), took its toll despite efforts
to protect the more tender subjects.
"All my Cordylines were decapitated; Rhapis,
and one of my small Livistona chinensis were killed outright, the
other survived with just a little leaf burn. A 3m Phoenix canariensis
that had been bandaged with a thick layer of hessian was defoliated
but is now showing strong signs of new growth. My smaller one survived
with just some leaf burn, with the aid of a heating cable. Phoenix
roebelenii, protected in a similar fashion, was partly defoliated,
but is now recovering well. Not surprisingly, Trachycarpus, Chamaerops,
Sabal minor and Butia capitata were all unscathed.
"It is now the end of March and I have replaced
all the plants lost, adding a multiple planting of Trachycarpus,
and to show I am not a defeatist, I have even planted a beautiful
specimen of Chrysalidocarpus which will be protected with a heated
shelter next winter. I am also planning to put out an Arecastrum.
Never say die, that's my motto. I should add that as Hampstead is
200m above sea level, winters are considerably colder than in central
London, just a few miles to the south."
Wilko Karmelk from Holland:
"The cold spell of February has brought quite
low temperatures though were no extreme lows. The absolute minimum
in our country was -15¾C. In my region, (the south-west), -12/13¾C
was recorded. The cold damaged some of the leaves of young Trachycarpus,
and Cordyline australis was hit badly.
"The Jubaeas and Phoenix sylvestris in my poly-tunnel
experienced -10.5¾C and didn't show any damage, whilst a Phoenix
dactylifera was totally browned by this temperature. There were
other plants that came through quite well: Fatsia japonica, Fatshedera
lizei, and many species of Yucca and Cacti were unscathed with no
From Switzerland, Manfred Walder sends this report:
"Verscio in the Centovalli, near the Lago Maggiore,
southern Switzerland, has experienced another long and unusually
cold winter in 90/91.
"Normally winters are mild, each with only
about 20 slight night-frosts, but this one brought many nights below
zero, a few days with heavy snowfall, and one night in February
with a minimum temperature of -9¾C here. This night, most of my
palms were covered with blankets. Many took no damage: Arenga engleri,
Butia, Chamaerops, Sabal, Jubaea and Trachycarpus of course. Others,
such as Brahea armata, Chamaedorea microspadix, C. radicalis, Livistona
chinensis and Phoenix canariensis were a bit burned. Only Livistona
australis and Washingtonia suffered more severe damage, but survived
And finally, from Germany, Jürgen Eisel:
"Here in Rengsdorf, (Westerwald) at 270m in
the mild Rhine Valley, winters are not usually extremely cold, but
winter 90/91 hit Germany, especially the northern half, much more
severely than usual.
"It started out normally here, until January
13th when biting easterly winds brought clear skies and heavy frosts
down to -9¾ to -14¾C, and at ground level, -13¾ to -18¾, on several
nights. The ground froze to a depth of 65cm.
"The cold weather lasted through February but
by the beginning of March it had warmed up considerably. All my
palms were well protected in the coldest weather and so far, there
seems to be no damage. However, other plants suffered more severely."
* * *
Well, there you have it: Winter 1990/91 as seen
by 15 palm enthusiasts around the continent. A big thankyou to all
contributors to this article, and to Patrick Gladden who supplied
the weather map and meteorological details.
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