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Lettre De France

Alain Moinié sends a picture postcard from the Cote d'Azur.
Alain Moinié, Pep. J. Rey, Domaine de la Pascalette, 83250 La Londe les Maures, France
Chamaerops No. 1, published online 23-11-2002

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C'est moi! Down on my knees for a closer look at a suckering Brahea species (dulcis?).

Dear Editor,

I was very pleased to learn of the formation of 'The European Palm Society' and I am very happy to join. As the magazine is to be called "Chamaerops" I thought I'd write you a letter and tell you a few things about the European Fan Palm here on the French Riviera.

No one knows whether it is indigenous or introduced. Some people claim that it has always existed in the wild state in the vicinity of Villefranche-sur-mer, near the Italian border. Axel Robertson-Proschovsky, perhaps the very first French palm enthusiast (he planted over 100 species of palm on his property) said in 'La revue horticole' 100 years ago, that Chamaerops has always been natural in this area. However, there is no fossil evidence for this, either seed or pollen, in the archaeological layers.

Nowadays it is widely planted, both in public and private gardens. Next to the nursery where I work is the abandoned and neglected garden of a big country house. There are 9 species of palms growing there completely unattended: Butia capitata, Phoenix reclinata, P. dactylifera, P. canariensis, Jubaea chilensis, Brahea armata, B. edulis, Sabal minor and Chamaerops humilis. Interestingly, the Brahea, Butia, Phoenix and Chamaerops have naturalised. There is a Brahea armata for instance, still young, but with already quite a big trunk, growing at the foot of a big clump of Chamaerops which leans over its head. This poor Brahea has its leaves completely stuck up against the trunk of the Chamaerops, but it looks perfectly happy and healthy anyway with beautiful, almost white leaves.

The Chamaerops are in such great numbers that they cover large parts of the garden, growing in grassy areas or under Quercus ilex, Pinus pinea and Acacia dealbata. They seem to be trying to colonize the entire garden and have even begun to invade our nursery, which borders it. They are the wild form, small and bushy, with sometimes a small emergent trunk. The leaves differ greatly from plant to plant, small and compact to large; glaucous to silver or green. I am sure that animals and birds (probably foxes, thrushes, magpies and blackbirds) help them to spread, by eating the fleshy fruits, and then evacuating the seeds at some distance away. The plants remain small surely because of lack of water; no artificial irrigation takes place any more and the plants must rely on the rain. Summer months especially are rather dry in the Mediterranean area.

I work with a Moroccan who knows my interest in palms. He tells me that in his country, during November and December, the young people go into the hills in search of Chamaerops. They choose the biggest ones, then take out the main trunk, which they peel like a leek, to eat the heart. He also said that people eat the fruits (how can they eat something that smells so bad?!) and use the leaves to make hats, baskets and ropes, and the fibre for mattresses.

The naturalization of Chamaerops, and palms generally, is interesting for two reasons: firstly, it proves that freezes are not strong enough, or last long enough to kill even the vulnerable young plants. (A cold spell occurs every 20/30 years. During the 85/86 winter the minimum temperature was minus 9°C, but the north-west wind called 'mistral' has devastating effects in creating violent masses of cold air).

Secondly, if we imagine that the human race should disappear from the face of the earth for some reason, nature would certainly recover the areas lost to human pressure. We would probably have hills covered with palms, a new landscape, and even perhaps the evolution of some new species after a long time. A pity we wouldn't be here to enjoy it.

Well I had better finish this letter now. I wish you success with the new society, and now you know a little bit more about your emblem.

A bientot,

Alain Moinié

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