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200-year-old Bermudian tree in Scotland comes down

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A historic Bermudian tree which was the oldest living exhibit in a Scottish botanic garden has at last come down.

Cutting crew: A tree expert starts to dismantle a massive Bermudian palmetto at the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh (Photograph Lynsey Wilson, RBGE)

Workmen moved in to a Victorian glasshouse at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh, home to the palmetto – scientific name Sabal Bermudana – to take down the 60ft tree on Tuesday.

Capturing the moment: Pippa Murphy (left) Karine Polwarth, an illustrator collaborate to mark the cutting down of a 200-year-old Bermudian tree, the oldest living exhibit in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (Photograph Lynsey Wilson RBGE)

Fiona Inches, the glasshouse supervisor, said the palm had to be moved because it was too big and old to survive being moved out to allow the glasshouse to be renovated as part of the garden’s Biomes revamp project.

Piped down: Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh artists in residence Pippa Murphy (left) Karine Polwarth, an illustrator and piper Gary West join forces to mark the end of the line for a 200-year-old Bermudian palmetto (Photograph Lynsey Wilson, RBGE)

Ms Inches added: “While to would have been wonderful to decant this specimen with the other plants which have been temporarily rehoused for the Edinburgh Biomes initiative, it was never really an option for the Sabal bermudana.

“It couldn’t stay in the house as the glass will be completely removed and that would leave it exposed to the elements of Edinburgh winters, something it has never experienced in more than 200 years.”

She said: “Even if we could access the house with the machinery required to move such a massive specimen, we do not have another house tall enough to take it.

“If we could find a decant space – and it survived the stress of an initial move after two centuries – a seven-year decant a final move to a the new, taller tropical house we’ll be building would probably be more than this particular plant could stand.”

Cutting crew: A tree expert starts to dismantle a massive Bermudian palmetto at the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh (Photograph Lynsey Wilson, RBGE)

The tree has had to be trimmed over the years as it threatened to grow through the glass roof but the work has weakened it.

But the tree is expected to live on through seedlings collected and cultivated over the years – as well as through art and music created by the RBGE’s artists in residence, Jacqui Pestell, an illustrator, and musician Pippa Murphy.

A spokeswoman for the 350-year-old garden said: “The hope is for a public event next year to mark its remarkable existence.

Cutting crew: A tree expert starts to dismantle a massive Bermudian palmetto at the Royal Botanical Garden Edinburgh (Photograph Lynsey Wilson, RBGE)

“Before then, RBGE staff hope to explore the potential of seed or progeny being returned to Bermuda.

“This can be discussed with the Bermuda Botanical Gardens and other possible new partners in botanical art, music and education.”

The tree – scientific name Sabal bermudana – 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.

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 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.

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.

Axed: A more than 200-year-old Bermudian palmetto in the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh is taken down by experts (Photograph Lynsey Wilson, RBGE)

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 October 01, 2021 at 7:57 am (Updated October 01, 2021 at 9:02 am)

200-year-old Bermudian tree in Scotland comes down

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