A Love Affair with Chamaerops
No, not the journal, surprisingly, but
the wonderful, variable, adaptable palm.
Chris Miller, 30 Princethorpe Road, London SE26
Chamaerops No. 19, published online 23-07-2002
on this article:
Click here to read them or to add your own.
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.
Nearby, parts of the mountain had been taken over
to form a village where locally growing Chamaerops had been incorporated
into gardens and, given water and, perhaps, shade from the worst
of the sun, they turned from humble ground-huggers to prima donnas
of up to about 3.5 metres high. While I do not profess to be botanically
trained, the variation in leaf colouring (deep green to glaucous),
growth habit (clumping or solitary), leaf size etc. was so evident
between plants growing in the same vicinity that it surprises me
that this palm has not been divided into different forms/varieties,
if not into different species. Perhaps Martin Gibbons, might like
to comment on this? The only book I could find in Barcelona to do
with cultivating palms in Spain (Palmeras by J. A. Del Canizo -
worth every one of its 2,500 pesetas) states that Snr Canizo has
verified that the palm can survive at least 9 degrees Centigrade
below zero. As he says, it is resistant to drought, full sun (even
young plants) or half shade, poor soils, rocky soils, sandy soils
and even salty sea breezes. While my 45ft by 23ft London SE26 back
garden is not noted for its periodic scrub fires, even I can provide
a well drained, sunny position and be fairly confident of minimum
winter temperatures which do not normally drop lower than 9 degrees
below zero. The small Chamaerops I planted last year came through
the winter with apparent indifference. Based on what I have seen
of their natural habitat, the plant probably feels no more unhappy
away from its home than I feel basking on a Spanish beach. I love
Sadly, my camera and the film used in it to take
umpteen photos of Chamaerops, both cultivated and in the wild, proved
somewhat less adaptable and tenacious than its subject, leaving
me with no photographic record for this article. I am particularly
sorry since I was hoping to bring back photos demonstrating, in
Fran's opinion, blue palmitos growing on the mountainside outside
Barcelona. However, in my subjective opinion, the palms cited by
him as being "blue" seemed no more than grey/green as
opposed to grey/blue (though still beautiful) and did not match
the blueness of the Chamaerops humilis photographed by Martin on
a recent trip to Morocco, assuming, of course, that the camera does
Chamaerops is indeed a species of wide variation.
The great Italian botanist Odoardo Beccari in his 1933 Asiatic Palms
lists and describes 9 distinct varieties: arborescens, lusitanica,
dactylocarpa, decipiens, sardoa, sicula, macrocarpa, hystrix and
cerifera. There are doubtless many more distinct forms all, almost
certainly the same single species. The most beautiful is surely
Cerifera and a picture appears opposite. Martin Gibbons
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17-09-21 - 07:17GMT
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of Cultivated Palms
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