Palm tree stump

Sadly, from towering tree to plant pot…

Jean Mertzanakis explains why the palm tree, which was almost as emblematic a landmark as St. Paul’s itself, is no more…

As the Anglican Church in Athens continues its aid and outreach programmes in the ongoing Greek economic crisis and the support of a steady stream of refugees and economic migrants into the country, another type of problem has exercised our minds during recent years – one that has laid waste to the wonderful old palm trees in the garden of St. Paul’s Church.

Palm tree infested 957x1280

David vs Goliath: the beetles won…

It began in 2004 when, prior to the Olympic Games, palm trees were imported from North Africa to decorate the sports venues. Unfortunately, trees were not the only import – the Palm Tree Beetle hitched a ride! This large black predator slowly kills its host tree from inside and can be heard munching if an ear is pressed to the trunk. Trees all over Athens were affected and those in our garden were not spared.

Many remedies were considered. One was the introduction of a secondary beetle that feeds on Palm Tree Beetle larva. Then, when its food supply runs out, it starves to death …. but we were not convinced!  Trimming off the branches and binding and netting the top of the tree was another option but, again, would this solution work? We were also advised that cutting into a tree would only persuade the beetles to relocate! Deadly chemicals were suggested, but who would take on the task of dosing the trees once a month? Expense was also a consideration and finally, after much soul-searching, it was decided to remove the trees.

St. Paul's with palm tree 640x480

Vying to reach the height of St. Paul’s: the palm tree we miss, as a shape and for its shade

First to go was the tallest, which offered much-needed shade for those enjoying their Sunday morning coffee during the summer months as they sat on the marble bench around its base. As the beetles steadily chomped their way through its innards, it was finally deemed unsafe and a team of professionals was hired to remove it, leaving only a large round stump. Since then we have lost two more trees but the ones on each side of the church door are still with us – and long may they continue!

We have other trees in the garden of course, including a lemon tree, a cypress and an olive tree planted by Rowan Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury, but the palm trees give a touch of the orient to our beautiful, historic and quintessentially English church.

Jean Mertzanakis

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