Few trees conjure images of faraway explorations and pilgrimages to paradise as the traveller's palm does. The scientific name Ravenala madagascariensis points to its origins in Madagascar where the fan of large leaves and striking shape caught the attention of early explorers. In the golden age of exploration, this beautiful tree was taken all over the world as an icon of the tropics and a fitting ambassador of the beautiful lush plants of equatorial landscapes. Due to the ability to withstand moderately cold weather, the traveller’s palm quickly became popular all over the world. Although not a true palm, the inseparable link between the equator and palm trees established the ‘palm’ in the name of this tropical icon. However, it really is a tree for travellers. Its popular name ‘travellers palm’ derives from two fascinating aspects of this tree. In Madagascar, where it was first discovered, native travellers would find drinkable rainwater stored between the sheaths of the stem during their journeys. Even more interestingly, the leaves tend to fan along the east-west axis, making the tree a compass of sorts for those lost in the wilderness.
Traveller’s palms were brought to Sri Lanka by British botanists when the Royal Botanical Gardens were established in Peradeniya amidst the central hills of the island. Similarly, traveller’s palms were planted in botanical gardens all over the world, from Singapore, India, and Britain, to the United States, making it one of the most well-travelled plants, living up to the name and mystique. Even today, it’s a garden plant loved by everyone who’d like to be taken away to distant lands through the spectacular sight of this tree.
We created this screen-print based on a vintage photograph (circa 1900, Plate 19. Photographic views of Singapore. G. R. Lambert & Company). It was originally an albumen silver print from glass negative currently in the Metropolitan Museum of Arts archives. It has been modified into bitmap form for screen-prints.
Take me away: two-colour screen-print