To outward appearances a shrubby, three-metre-high palm tree in the Rotary Centre, Victoria Park Dubbo, is someone’s idea of a joke. It is unimposing. Perhaps it is like those Washingtonia Palms which came up all over Victoria Park 15 years ago? They got burnt to the ground by vandals for cheap laughs. For months the skyline was lit up like a torch as once again a palm tree became a bonfire.
No, this solitary palm is different. It doesn’t germinate just anywhere. In fact it is one of the slowest growing plants there is. Seed must be fresh and it can take six to 15 months in just-right conditions before it even sprouts. The palm is said to grow only one metre in five years, three metres in 10 years, six metres in 20 years; slow, slow, slow. Ours grew just over three metres in 25 years. Harsh climate, right! But better than the tropics where it won’t grow at all. It is cold tolerant.
Yet the palm in question has an exotic background. When I approach it from the Bunya Bunya (Araucaria bidwillii) in the Rotary Centre, across the road from the Bowling Club, I can almost hear the music.
My imagination pushes forward the romantic rhythms of flamenco guitar chords. Their harmonies, range, and tempered intonations weave beautiful textures of sound. I am enveloped by the soul of central coastal Chile in South America. That is where our palm comes from.
Botanically it is called Jubaea chilensis (named after King Juba from the old African kingdom of Numidia). It is also called Chilean Wine Palm. The native name is Coquito Palm. Today it is rare in its natural habitat because it has been consistently cut for its sugary sap, which is distilled as palm wine. It is also boiled down to make palm honey.
The curious coincidence is that our Coquito Palm is positioned only metres away from our Australian Bunya Pine.
This pine is a close relative of the Chilean Monkey Puzzle (A. araucana). How’s that for placement? Gives me goose bumps, or the chillies, just thinking about it!
When mature the Coquito Palm becomes most stately with a wide and solid trunk reaching twenty metres tall. There is a diamond pattern on the trunk and the feather fronds ascend steeply and then arch gently outwards.
We only have one and I say there is deceptive trickery because the mature beauty is not seen for many years. We have to wait. It was bought by our one-time Curator Mr. Chris Vafiopolous some 25 years ago.
He had a vision for Victoria Park to be a botanic gardens. And how do I know all this? Simply, I planted the tree.
At the time I didn’t hear the drama of Spanish guitar strings. However, it survived. Is it worth the wait? You betcha!