The legacy of the Sabal Palm
Following the decant of the Living Collection, the last remaining specimen in the Palm Houses, the sabal palm (Sabal bermudana), was removed on 28 September.
The two-hundred-year-old palm, which first grew at the Garden’s previous site at Leith Walk and was transported to the Inverleith Garden in the early 1820s, had outgrown the Tropical Palm House. Having been trimmed various times in recent years to prevent it pushing through the glass, the tree was failing and was too frail to survive being moved to another Glasshouse.
Before the palm was removed, as is customary in documenting significant plants in the collection, Jacqui Pestell, RBGE’s Director of Botanical Illustration, accompanied by botanical artist Işık Güner, began to paint a large-scale work of art for the Archives. Working in collaboration, Dr Michelle Hart took samples of the plant for DNA sequencing and tropical botanist Dr Axel Dalberg Poulsen collected seeds and other material from the tree to make into a lasting Herbarium specimen, which can be used as a source of information for scientists around the world now and in the future.
The Victorian Temperate and Tropical Palm Houses are now completely empty for the first time since they were built in the mid-19th century, in preparation for much-needed restoration work as part of the Edinburgh Biomes project. Once the Glasshouses are restored, young trees which are progeny of the palm, will feature among the new plantings.
Image of the sabal palm taken in 1874 after its move and ‘retubbing’ by Head Gardener James McNab and his team.