Today’s Botany Photo of the Day once again comes from the pages of the album that Douglas Justice collected on his recent trip through China. Stephen Coughlin provides his third entry.
In its native tropical, sub-tropical, and warm temperate habitats of coastal Asia (China, Taiwan, and southern Japan), Livistona chinensis—the Chinese fan palm—often reaches upwards of 15 metres (45 feet). At the trunk’s apex, the characteristically costapalmate (and scroll down here ) green leaves (which can grow to a diameter of 5 metres) collapse back toward the earth like layers of fountain water cascading softly downward from the peak of their trajectory. For this reason, many happily refer to the species as the fountain palm, and just as the figure of its namesake evokes a sense of sweet respite and replenishment, the species itself produces raw materials for human nourishment and raiment, and it forms a cool canopy through which only cracks of sunlight can penetrate. While it does indeed provide humans and animals with a measure of protection from the heat of the tropical sun, L. chinensis guards itself against the baleful consequences of drought by way of a long tap root that generally extends to the cool, moist depths of 2 metres. Of course, today the palm is a popular domestic and commercial plant that rarely confronts the adverse soil and climate conditions against which it is so hardy: in the warmer parts of North America, it is generally sited in shopping mall pots and alongside manicured highways or caring homes.
Botanical gardens contain multitudes in several senses: beyond the heterogeneity of visible and invisible life forms that inhabit or make use of this land, that is, the garden is by nature home to a broad spectrum of mood and ambience. Odd moments find one immersed in a tour group or a research party, while others are steeped in the tranquility and solitude of an isolated corner or an often overlooked path. Though it was taken in the South China Botanical Garden, which, as a rule, hums with the frantic energy of practical human endeavor and association, this photo seems to suggest the latter form of experience—of leaving the heat, light, and din of the highway and the beaten path behind for the serene terrain of whispers, shadows, and the unexpected.