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200-year-old Bermudian tree in Scottish gardens to be axed today

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A 200 year-old palmetto tree in Scotland’s capital city will be cut down today – but it is scheduled to live on through descendants overseas and in Bermuda.

Simon Allan, a horticulturalist at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, with a 200-plus year old Bermudian palmetto scheduled to be cut down today. The tree is the only plant left in a soon-to-be renovated glasshouse (Photograph supplied by RBGE)

The 60ft tree, the oldest plant in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s living collection, has to go because its Victorian glasshouse home is to be renovated – and it is too big and frail to be successfully moved.

But it is hoped that seedlings from the tree, which arrived in Edinburgh in 1814, will be gifted to the island’s Botanical Gardens, as well as cultivated in the new-look glasshouses at the Scottish institution.

Fiona Inches, the glasshouse supervisor, said that the palmetto had threatened to break through the roof of the glasshouse.

She added: “Because of its growth, for more than a decade, we have been creating more space for the palm by cutting it back at the crown of leaves.

“This has inevitably resulted in stress and a weakening of growth.”

She said: “What photographs fail to show is that space is very tight up there.”

The tree – scientific name Sabal bermudiana – is the only exhibit left in the glasshouse, one of several to be modernised at the research centre.

Experts will collect seeds and other material from the Bermudian tree for the RBGE’s herbarium.

A spokeswoman for the RBGE said that, with advances in genomics, the specimens would be an important reservoir of information for scientists.

The RBGE archives show the palmetto has been in its collection since at least 1814 and the records suggested it was transported to Germany before it arrived in Edinburgh by ship.

It was at first in the RBGE’s original home in the city’s Leith Walk, but was moved to a new site in Inverleith, then on the outskirts of the city, in 1822.

Early days: A Bermudian palmetto in the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh is moved and retubbed by James McNab, the head gardener, and his team in 1874 (Photograph Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh)

The tree grew in a lean-to glasshouse before it was moved to the new and larger tropical palm house in 1833 – its home since then.

The RBGE has moved more than 40,000 plants and trees as part of its Biomes Project, the biggest revamp in the institution’s 350-year history.

The project is expected to be completed by 2027.

The Royal Gazette reported in March that the tree could not be saved and would have to be taken down to allow the work to go ahead.

The tree was in a pot plant when it was moved to to the tropical palm hothouse.

It was planted in the ground in 1910 and has flourished ever since.

The trees grow a half inch to two inches every year.

They can reach 80ft tall and weigh more than ten tons.

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Published September 28, 2021 at 7:54 am (Updated September 28, 2021 at 7:39 am)

200-year-old Bermudian tree in Scottish gardens to be axed today

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