A prominent Nigerian, Ajoke Muhammed, spoke last week to the BBC about her work conserving palm trees in West Africa. In Abuja, she has a collection of 2,000 trees and shrubs including 400 species or varieties of palms: “For years I’ve been trying to form a Palm Society of Nigeria but no-one is interested” (reported AT Nwaubani). She thinks that Nigeria’s oil industry has diverted interest away from the production of palm tree oil. Now the major crops are corn and cassava and few seem to care about any other agricultural crops.

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palm fruit: source of palm oil                                                      Ruffled Fan Palm

Most people who visit Mrs Muhammed’s botanical garden are more interested in buying plants for their aesthetic value, And most of the science graduates she employs have a wealth of theory but can’t actually do anything. So the staff at the garden are trained from scratch.

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Bottle Palms                                                                              Tender Old Man Palm

Ms Mulhammed’s concerns raise the question of why we should bother with palms. Just because a few species provide oil and ornament, should the others to left to become extinct? Of course, there is more value in these plants.  Recent art and architecture have used them to express their own particular ideas. They are also members of complex ecosystems with many interacting parts.

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Anslem Kiefer, Palm Sunday                         Palm Islands, Dubai

But another role for palms has survived for thousands of years: their association with myth and death. In the Old Testament palms symbolised both triumph and eternal life. So Jesus entered Jerusalem walking on a pathway covered with palm leaves:

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P Lorenzetti 1720

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