Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The palm of iron and blood


In the year the German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck proposed the world's first old-age pension scheme - confounding his arguably deserved reputation as a conservative - compatriots Friedrich Hildebrand and Hermann Wendland named one of the world's most beautiful palms after him. It was 1881.

As far as I know, Bismarck did little for botany. I do recall from Year 11 History that he did a whole lot for Germany in the late nineteenth century. In fact I became quite obsessed with him at the time although I never understood why he was remained Chancellor and never became President or Prime Minister of Germany. I now understand that being Chancellor is as good as it gets in Germany.

Bismarckia nobilis, like more than 180 species of palm, grows naturally in Madagascar only. It grows unnaturally all over the tropical and subtropical world, and the glaucous-blue form will even tolerate the odd frost or two. If you visited or walked past any holiday resort in warmer climes you'll have seen them. Mostly they are young specimens and it seems that only in recent years, surprisingly, this species has taken off in horticulture.

There is only one species of Bismarckia and it's a noble one. The scientific name joins a small list I'm starting of imposing names. So far I have only two: Chrysophyllum imperialis, which I nickname the Imperial or Royal Tree, and now Bismarckia nobilis. I'm sure there are others....

My habit picture of the species at the top of this post, from a park in Puerto de Mogan on Gran Canaria, doesn't really do the species justice but these close ups are much prettier. It's one of the fan palms, so it's fronds look like this.


Some plants have downy pimples at the base of the leaves, like this. Others don't. 


And the female plants carry bunches of fruit like this.


So for me, this plant is striking to look at, impressively named, and an obscure connection to history lessons at Castlemaine High School.

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