A Fan Palm For Palm Fans
Tobias Spanner of Germany gives an in-depth profile
of Chamaerops humilis - the European Fan Palm.
Tobias Spanner, Tizianstr. 44, 8000 München 19, Germany
Chamaerops No. 1, published online 23-11-2002
on this article:
Click here to read them or to add your own.
Surely everyone who has ever been to the Mediterranean
has seen a nice little clumping fan palm, called the 'Mediterranean'
or 'European' Fan Palm. It is found in abundance there, in parks,
gardens and along streets where it has been cultivated for centuries.
It was introduced into northern Europe at least as early as 1731,
for growing in orangeries.
As its botanical name Chamaerops humilis (gr. chamai
= low; rhops = shrub; lat. humilis = low, modest) suggests, it occurs
throughout its native habitat as a small clumping plant, rarely
over two metres high. However, cultivated plants often grow much
taller, sometimes to over 8m, and a large, old clump makes an impressive
sight (...and makes one wonder how it ever came to get that name).
Chamaerops is a monotypical genus, closely related
to Trachycarpus and Rhapidophyllum. Like Trachycarpus, its slender
trunks are covered in masses of fibrous sheaths, although these
do shed on very old plants leaving a woody core. They support crowns
of numerous, small, stiff, spreading fan leaves, usually dull green
above and silvery below, with wickedly spiny petioles. It is dioecious
(male and female on separate plants) or sometimes polygamous. The
yellow flowers are arranged on short, stiff inflorescences produced
in spring and are followed by green olive-sized fruits, turning
orange when ripe, in autumn. The fruit pulp of ripe seeds contains
oil and butyric acid, which makes them smell a bit like rotten cheese.
As an extremely variable species, Chamaerops humilis
comes in many different forms. Extreme variability can be seen firstly
in the shape, size and colour of the leaves, which can be grey,
green, blue or silver. Secondly in the size and shape of the entire
plant (dwarf, acaulescent or tall, erect forms) and thirdly, in
the size of the fruits which in some forms may only be the size
of a pea.
Among the many varieties, which can be seen in cultivation
are var. arborescens/eliator - a tall, solitary form; var. argentata
with silvery leaves; var. elegans/gracilis with slim stems, and
var. robusta with much thicker trunks.
Common in the western Mediterranean with centres
of distribution in southern Spain and Morocco, Chamaerops ascends
to 860m in the Balearic Islands, and to an astonishing 2300m in
the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco, where a beautiful blue-leafed
form is sometimes to be found. In its native habitat it grows mainly
in drier situations on cliffs, or in open woodland on sandy or rocky
ground, often on limestone. Climatic conditions range from a Mediterranean
climate with hot summers and mild winters with rarely a frost along
the coasts, to a cool, winter-cold climate with heavy frost and
snow in the Atlas Mountains.
Indeed, Chamaerops has proved to be one of the palms
most adaptable to cultivation, and is widespread all over the world
today, though there are still many milder parts of northern Europe
where they have yet to be tried.
Adult plants will survive long periods of snow cover
and occasional quite heavy frosts. Tip burn may occur on the leaves
only when the temperature drops to -9° or -11°C and the
palm may survive a frost down to -17°C, though it would probably
lose some or all of its leaves. However, due to its small size,
winter protection is easily accomplished.
Chamaerops will grow best in full sun, planted in
a very well drained, alkaline, fertile, sandy loafs-, but it will
also grow under less favourable conditions and is very adaptable
to different soils. Good drainage is essential! Perfect drainage
will ensure Chamaerops' success even in areas with cool summers,
or high rainfall, and greatly improves its resistance to frosts.
It also makes a fine tub plant, which will tolerate
some drying out and neglect, however, although it can take low humidity
and is rarely attacked by pests, it should not be kept inside as
a houseplant all year round. In a warm room, it will soon become
weak, pale and unsightly, due to lack of light. In summer, potted
specimens should be kept outside in a sunny spot for as long as
possible. In winter, they prefer to be kept dry and at temperatures
between just frost-free, and 14°C. If kept cool enough they
require very little light, and can be over-wintered in an unheated
garage for example, although a greenhouse would be better.
Plants in tubs will flower when still quite young,
but are rather slow to form a trunk. To maximise growth, all Chamaerops
should be well watered and fertilized in summer.
Propagation is usually from seed, which will easily germinate after
one or two months at a temperature between 22° and 30°C.
Another possibility is to separate suckers from the mother plant,
but this is difficult and not always successful.
Nice plants of Chamaerops are usually available
from nurseries all over Europe, although large specimens with trunks
fetch high prices.
Altogether, Chamaerops humilis is really an easy
plant, and because of its moderate size and its adaptability, it
will surely find a place in the most modest home or garden. A rewarding
plant in every respect.
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10-07-20 - 00:20GMT
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