October 18, 2017

Love palms, love Cornwall! By Claire

Bismarckia nobilis

Love palms, love Cornwall!

I have lived in Cornwall all of my life and I really wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. It’s just a hive of gardening wonder. The palms, the palms! I just love them and would love to fill my garden with them. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately!) I have stuck with three beauties and thought I would share with you some of the fascinating history that surrounds them

Phoenix dactyliferaDate Palm – Phoenix dactylifera

This palm is thought to come from the area that surrounds the Persian Gulf. In ancient times it is thought to have been especially prolific between the Nile and the Euphrates. There is claim that in prehistoric times that the date palm was found from Senegal to northern India! The date palm has been treated as a symbol of fertility and was so highly prized that it has been seen pictured on coins. It is thought that nomads planted the date palm around oases in deserts. In Spain, it is likely that the Moors introduced it. Today, Iraq leads in the production of dates – there are estimated to be 22 million date palms! These producing about 600,000 tons of dates in 2003. While my date palm doesn’t produce dates here in Cornwall, it is still a spectacular palm and a real jewel in my garden. Just a little warning – make sure you love this palm before planting one; they grow, and grow, and grow!

Trachycarpus fortuneiTrachycarpus fortunei

Trachycarpus fortunei was discovered in China in 1845 by Robert Fortune who brought it back to England. In my horticultural readings I have found out that you can’t actually name a plant after yourself, someone else has to suggest it. All of the plants named after botanists who found them, and it was someone else who actually had to name them! Here in Cornwall, while protection is needed in very cold winters, the myth that they are not at all hardy is simply not true – you can see Trachycarpus all over Cornwall! From the original collection of palms from the 1845 expedition still stand and are now more than 45ft tall! One of the main issues that I find with palms is how to protect the tallest ones from winds. All I can do is stake them well and hope for the best. There is debate in the horticultural circles about whether staking actually deters the plants from developing their own, strong, root system. I would rather stake than take the risk.

Bismarckia nobilis – Madagascar Palm

Bismarckia nobilisThis is a really interesting palm; it is dioecious. This means that trees are either male or female. Dioecious plants are found (blueberries and holly are other examples). The palm was named after the first German chancellor, Otto von Bismarck. ‘nobilis’comes from Latin for ‘noble’. There are (wisely?) very few plants that have been named after politicians! Another interesting fact about the Bismarckia is that when the French colonised Madagascar, they considered the species to be part of the Medemia’s. It is currently considered, however, that the genera is distinct, therefore meaning that Bismarckia is the palm’s correct name.

Rafael said of this palm: “To dig a Bismarckia, is nearly to kill it.” If you are going to plant one, make sure you plant it where you want it to stay! The general soil advice for palms is to plant in well-draining soil, but it is well documented that Bismarckia’s can grow very happily in dense clay soils too. My Bismarckia seems to thrive when the soil around it is kept moist.

I hope you have enjoyed this potted history of my three favourite palms.

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