Palm trees in Ireland are frost hardy and grow in gardens all over. They decorate our towns and suburbs, they are blasted by the salt air on our seafronts, and they are often seen in pairs guarding the entrances to farmhouses and give a tropical look to any garden.
However, they are not palm trees at all; they are the New Zealand native, Cordyline australis. They enjoy the common name of “cabbage tree”, supposedly because settlers in New Zealand found the young leaves to be a tolerable substitute for cabbage. The plant was popularised in Irish gardens as early as the late 1800s. By the 1970s — and almost certainly before that – the palm imposter had gone rogue, spreading into the wild and lending parts of coastal Ireland a distinctly beautiful aura.
The cabbage palms are able to thrive in Ireland because of warm ocean currents. Ireland is roughly at about the same latitude as Newfoundland, but its winters are much milder. However, Ireland has experienced unusual weather patterns in the past few years. We had severe snow and frosts, with temperatures going down to -10 degrees centigrade in 2009. In fact, because of the extreme winter conditions many Cordyline palms were damaged or died.
Ireland enjoys a temperate maritime climate, due mainly to its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and the presence of the Gulf Stream.
Photo: Howth, Co Dublin