The Killer Leaf


The avenue of palms at the Rio Botanical Gardens. Source: Wikipedia

Snippets 212.  Thomas Woodbine Hinchcliff was a mountaineer, explorer and travel writer, who served as President of the London-based Alpine Club, the first mountaineering club in the world, between 1875 and 1877. During that time one of his several travel journals was published, and the one I want to take a detailed look at over the coming months: Over the Sea and Far Away, which mainly focuses on South America, published in 1876. In Rio de Janeiro, Hinchliff visited the breathtaking Botanical Garden, and had a lucky escape from what might have been a rather unusual accident:

The Botanical Garden is near the base of the Corcovado, and its famous avenue of royal palms is a truly magnificent sight. One of the many tramways lately established for the convenience of the city, runs thither in little more than an hour. The change made by these institutions has been very great indeed. When I knew Rio formerly, carriages were excessively expensive; and as the place is too hot for much walking, people seldom moved more than they were obliged, to move: now the tram-cars are full all day with people going in every direction, and numbers of clerks and men of business are enabled to sleep in the lovely suburbs, amidst groves of oranges and gardens full of brilliant flowers, instead of being cooped up in the city itself. The receipts of the companies must be very large and the expenses small. Their tickets serve as small change, which is a great convenience in a country where there is nothing but paper money, with the exception of copper dumps, a cumbrous exaggeration of our extinct cartwheel penny-pieces.

The car stops at the very gate of the garden, where a startling effect is always awaiting a visitor for the first time. An avenue of one-third of a mile in length is formed by a double row of cabbage-palms (Oreodoxa regia) lining the broad path which intersects the garden. These noble palms are a hundred feet high, and have grown with such marvellous regularity that their crowns meet in a continuous arch, as if composed of glorified Corinthian capitals. There is a shorter similar avenue at right angles to the first; and in clear weather it is a charming sight to look up those tall pearl-grey stems to the shining green of leaves gently rustling under the ‘central blue.’ I was making notes one day at the foot of one of these giants, when I heard a swishing sort of noise overhead, like that of heavy rain, though the sky was cloudless; and a bystander had just time to warn me from the spot, when a dead leaf about twenty feet long, with a stem as thick as my arm, fell exactly where I had been sitting. It was just as if the royal palm had thrown down a leaf to enable the stranger to form some notion of his noble proportions.

19th Century Travel journals are fascinating “windows into history”.  If this quote has sparked your interest in this area of history, you might like to consider reading about my recently published book on the subject: Windows into History – The Book

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About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
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1 Response to The Killer Leaf

  1. Ged Maybury says:

    We ended up with a garden full of palm trees (not this exact species, tho’), and yes: the things are splendid indeed in *someone else’s* garden, but never your own. They throw down dozens and dozens of ‘palm fronds’ per year (not ‘leaves’ as he so quaintly put it) and some are indeed big enough to kill the unwary below (allowing for a perfect strike, and no-one to find you for several hours). DO NOT HAVE PALM TREES!

    Liked by 1 person

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