A Love Affair with Chamaerops

No, not the journal, surprisingly, but the wonderful, variable, adaptable palm.
by Chris Miller, 30 Princethorpe Road, London SE26
Chamaerops No.20, published online 23-07-2002

On my recent visit to Barcelona, I decided to pay closer attention than normal to Chamaerops humilis - the Mediterranean (or European) Fan palm - both in municipal settings and also growing wild on the mountainside, and I came away infatuated with these palms. I was already familiar with some of the specimens which grow in Barcelona and on the coast, but I had not really observed them in the wild. With the help of a good friend, Fran Cardama (mild mannered doctor by day; crazed and obsessive palm fan by holiday), I was driven south from Barcelona and up into the mountains a few kilometres inland from Sitges and, after walking along a dirt track, we came to a spot where "palmitos" dotted the landscape.

I challenge anyone not to he struck by the tenacity of this palm. It seeded and grew out of cracks in bare rock, exposed to intense heat and sunlight; it rubbed shoulders with Agaves on mountainsides and survived even quite intense fires. According to Fran, there are periodic fires in the area as there have been by natural causes through history. The only difference now is the frequency (most years, some areas catch fire) and the cause (sad to say, man is normally to blame). I was shown the charcoaled remains of various stems of this palm caused by last year's fires, out of which new leaves were emerging. It is no wonder that this plant is extremely cold hardy given that its insulating top layer is so effective that it can protect the growing point from fire.

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