170-Year-Old 'Sisi Palm' to Get the Ax Vienna's beloved "Sisi Palm," named after the late Austro-Hungarian Empress Elisabeth, will be chopped down next month. Viennese officials say the tree, which attracts thousands of tourists a month, has grown so large it threatens to break the roof of its historic greenhouse.
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170-Year-Old 'Sisi Palm' to Get the Ax

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170-Year-Old 'Sisi Palm' to Get the Ax

170-Year-Old 'Sisi Palm' to Get the Ax

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

It has stood for 170 years, withstood a revolution and two World Wars. It has long outlived the empress for which it was named and the empire she helped rule. But now, the famous Sisi palm in Vienna must lose its head, like so many royals. The tree named after Austrian Empress Elizabeth has grown too tall for its home in the palm house of Vienna's Schoenbrunn Palace Gardens. It must be chopped down before it breaks through the glass-paneled roof.

Bethany Bell of the BBC has been following the story, and we have her on the line now. Hello there, Bethany Bell.

Ms. BETHANY BELL (Correspondent, BBC News): Hi.

SEABROOK: Tell us the history of this fabulous tree. I understand that thousands of tourists come to see it every year, the Sisi Palm.

Ms. BELL: Yes, it's the centerpiece of what's believed to be the largest and one of certainly the most ornamental greenhouses in Europe. And the Sisi Palm has been the centerpiece of it for many years. In fact, it was the successor to another tree, which was named after another empress of Austria, Maria Theresia, which was the centerpiece from the time when the greenhouse was built in 1882. But right now, if you go, like many of those tourists and you visit the place, you see that the palm is right up against the roof, 82 feet high and it's sort of really banging against the glass. And if they leave it any longer, it's going to break right through.

SEABROOK: Now the Sisi palm was named for the famous Empress Elizabeth of Austria, Hungary and planted, we think, in 1938 and brought into the palm house in the 1880s. Empress Elizabeth was a character, huh? She was sort of like the Princess Di of the day.

Ms. BELL: Very much so. She wrote poetry. She was believed to suffer from eating disorders, again rather like Princess Diana. She rebelled very much against the very strict rules of the court and she use to like spending time in the Mediterranean, she used to like escaping to Hungary. And in fact, legend has it that she was extremely fond of possibly even this palm tree because it reminded her of the Mediterranean.

Now, we're not quite sure how this palm tree came into the Hofburg collection, but it certainly belonged to the Hofburg for a good 40 years before the greenhouse was built. So it's likely that the Empress Sisi knew it even in an earlier incarnation. And it became the centerpiece of the palm house after the Second World War because a number of the palm trees didn't survive that period because it suffered bone damage. But then this palm tree has been the centerpiece since 1950s but now, of course, it's getting just too tall.

SEABROOK: Why can't they just prune it? Why do they have to chop it down? I mean, I'm starting to get sad they're going to chop this palm down.

Ms. BELL: Well, unfortunately, gardeners say that you can't cut back a genuine palm tree, that if you try and prune a palm tree, it's just going to die. So they said they have two terrible alternatives before them, either that the glasshouse is - this fantastic glasshouse breaks or they'll have to kill the tree. So the tree, unfortunately, is going, and the date to that is 18th of February. So people have a very short time to go and pay their respects to the Sisi palm tree.

SEABROOK: Bethany Bell is the BBC correspondent in Vienna. Thanks so much.

Ms. BELL: Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: Now as devastating as the lost of the Sisi Palm will be for horticulturalists, it pales with the losses felt now by the French bank, Societe Generale. Bank officials gave new details today about the schemes of a low-level employee who managed to carry out fraudulent trades that cost the bank more than $7 billion.

Jerome Kerviel used other people's computer access codes and falsified documents to enter fictitious trades. The bank won't rule out the possibility that he did have accomplices. Kerviel's lawyer says incredibly that his client did not profit from the schemes.

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