Specializing in exotic plants and palms, María Durá is not a horticulturalist or a gardening authority. Her expertise is as an artist. Her paintings of cultivated trees, tropical shrubs and exotic bushes are extraordinarily accurate and often placed into imaginary landscapes

María Durá is based in southern Spain where she is surrounded by many varieties of palm trees. Infatuated by the way they grow, it is of no importance to her that palms are not trees at all. They don’t have branches or bark and the trunk is in fact a stem. To be a tree, the trunk must grow in diameter but the stem of a palm cannot!

Even more confusing is that not all palms are palms. True members belong to the Palmae family consisting of feather palms and fan palms but plants such as the so-called sago palm belong to a primitive family known as the Cycads.

Frequently seen in the Algarve, young sago palms grow in pots and the older versions can be successfully transplanted into the ground. María is fascinated by the way a tuft of tough fernlike leaves arises in a whorl from a central focal point of the bulblike base each year No one cares that it isn’t a palm and isn’t even related to one! It makes a wonderful subject for a painting.

As do all the sword palms with their lethal pointed leaves and flowering white or cream bell flowers. Mature versions of these trees can grow to six metres in height and are most often seen in parks and gardens. They can definitely be referred to as trees but they are not palms. To add to this anomaly, they are members of the Yucca family and their common name is the Spanish bayonet!

Not to be overlooked, María features in her paintings the one and only indigenous palm that thrives in southern Iberia. Yes this one really is a palm and the Chamaerops humilis can legitimately be called the European fan palm. Hard to believe that of 2,500 palm species found across the world only one is native to our continent yet many others have been introduced and flourish where the climate is warm.

That’s not to say all palms are doing well. There are a hundred species on the endangered list ,many of them living in areas where deforestation is taking place. Ironically, land in Southeast Asia and Brazil has been cleared in huge swathes to make way for palm oil plantations. How disappointing that one palm species may be threatening others with extinction.

For María it is probably too late to capture the beauty of the Hyophorbe amaricaulis as it is the last one left in the entire world and kept under close protection in a botanic garden in Mauritius.

To see her beautiful paintings visit the magical Galeria Corte Real in Paderne.

Words: Carolyn Kain

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