Costa del Chamaerops

The result of a 10 year amateur study undertaken by Dr. Butler along the Costa Blanca in Spain. Fascinating and well researched, brilliant photographs, including our cover, provided by the author.
by Dr. Neil Buttler, Dorset, UK
Chamaerops No.27 Summer 1997

I hesitated to write about this much loved and well documented plant because of the risk of comments like Not another one . However there are so many rich and varied communities of this plant, (known commonly as palmito or locally as margallo) in this area that the risk is worth taking. In the tourist sense Costa Blanca refers to the coastline of Spain. Chamaerops is regarded as a coastal plant but it does extend inland for considerable distances where suitable habitats are found. This article is about my observations along the coastal zone of the province extending inland up to 30 kms. I have made regular botanical forays into the Mediterranean area over the last 40 years. Chamaerops was just one of many interesting plants but its distribution confined to the western Mediterranean was of some interest. This interest became more focused as I spent more time in the Chamaerops zone and over the last ten years my interest has been concentrated in the Alicante Province.

The fate of Chamaerops is very much linked to human activities, sometimes to its advantage and sometimes the reverse. Before humans invaded the Mediterranean, it had its own niche on coastal cliffs and inland where suitable habitats existed within its range. When early man decimated the forests this opened vast new areas that Chamaerops could colonise. It was of course excluded from the areas used for agriculture. Much of the poorer land that was used for subsistence farming for many centuries has been abandoned and Chamaerops has moved in. Such colonisation is very slow. The Province of Alicante has a varied landscape, both mountainous and flat. In the south of the province there are large areas of coastal plains which merge into the inland mountains. Going north the mountain chains curve eastward to the sea to produce the classic sea-cliff habitat for Chamaerops.

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