Saving the Vrboska Palm: A Tree Expert Speaks

Total Croatia News

Plans to remove the pretty palm tree in Vrboska’s central island have upset a visiting tree expert.

As with most topics I blog about on this website, I don’t know a lot about trees, but I know a man who does.

I have always really liked the palm tree on the small island in the centre of Vrboska harbour. It brings an exotic touch to the picturesque town, and I have spent more than one occason looking at it dreamily over the last few years.

Not for much longer, as plans to renovate the island are due to start soon, and do not include the palm tree. 

As I understand it, the island will be home to indigenous plants, and other plants have a problem growing close to the palm. As the pictures below show, the single palm is a relatively recent feature on the island, but it is one my tree expert friend likes very much, and he worries about the sustainability of other plants brought into such an aethetically important part of the town. In his words: 

“I walked through Vrboska today and as I crossed the bridge a tourist was taking a photograph of the Palm tree on the island and its reflection in the water. So it was with surprise that I have heard that there are plans to cut it down.

From the cafe where I sit now I can see the rounded forms of the Pines on the hillside opposite and the smaller trees growing close to the sea, Pistachio by the old boatyard, the Kopriva (Celtis australis) by the playground and somewhere I know there is a Rogač (Carob) hiding. They merge one into the other, naturally and seamlessly.

I can see three exclamation marks, the chimney of the old factory (which is protected), the Palm tree (which is to be cut down) and the Cypress trees opposite the Riva. Together, they define and frame the landscape. 

The buildings along the Vrboska sea front are charming but they are not beautiful in themselves. There is no pattern or rhythm to bind them together and they tumble along the sea front like the children here beside me as they escape from school. But the buildings are charming partly because they are anchored by the strong visual element which is the Palm tree on the island.

It is an icon and is in every photograph­ collection of every tourist who visits the village, like the one I met just now. Open the Vrboska Tourist Board website and what do you see?

On cold winter evenings next winter in 50 countries people will show their friends pictures of a beautiful Dalmatian village with an enchanting Palm tree on a magical island. Some of those friends will reach for laptops and book a holiday because they want to experience it too. When they get here they will love the hillsides with Pine trees and Rogač and wildflowers, but their imagination has been excited by a small island in a harbour and a single Palm tree.

They will not know, or care, that the Palm tree originates from the Canary Islands, or that cultivated Olives probably came from Syria, and Bougainvillea from Brazil, they will be enchanted by them all, from near and from far; and so will be the wildlife that are sheltered by them and feed on their flowers. It is a good thing to value and plant native trees, shrubs and flowers, but in this one small place, this single tree contributes more to the landscape and the economy than would a hectare of maquis shrubland.

A few years ago the Pine trees on the island were cut down, partly I assume because they were unhappy. Like Rogač, Pine trees like dry soils and warm hillsides and these had had enough of this cold island. At best it is barely 1 metre above the sea and much of it is about half a metre above the salt water. It is windswept and cold, and the trees roots have sea water where they want to put their roots deep into the rocky soils. Ideal for Palms, not good for trees and shrubs of the maquis.

It seems ill advised to cut down this successful tree before it is known that what will replace it will grow well and do a better job. If it does not do a better job, why cut it down? Will the plants of the Musak, and the others, be in every tourists photograph of the island? Let us hope so, but maybe it would be best to delay cutting down the tree until we know.
Is it possible for the new plants to frame the landscape and bring enchantment to the village better than the Palm tree does already?”


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