The European palm

chamaerops humilis

This (almost hardy) palm has the northernmost natural distribution of any palm. It is native to northern Africa, but also across the Med. to Portugal, Spain, Italy, France and the Mediterranean islands. Curiously, although it is found further north than any other palm, it is not as hardy as Trachycarpus but that is because that palm is found at higher altitudes than chamaerops. Although Trachycarpus is Asian in origin, it is the closest relative but differs in being single-stemmed in habit as opposed to clustering in chamaerops and trachycarpus is far less spiny – trachycarpus has more or less smooth petioles while chamaerops has viciously spiny petioles making weeding around it or picking out autumn leaves a very unpleasant job. Trachycarpus has much bigger leaves too and is not easy to confuse.

There is just one species, C. humilis although there are several varieties including var. argentea which has striking, silvery blue leaves.

Clustering in habit, this palm usually grows to about 2m high and the leaves can be up to 1m long although they are usually less than this. I have a plant to the south of the house in the east Midlands that has been in a pot for many years. It has produced offsets to form a clump and has rooted through the base so I cannot move it now. The fact that it is so well drained is probably the reason it has survived so well even though we have had extremely cold winters and it has often been covered in snow. I do not think it would have survived if it had been planted in soil. I have tried the silvery var. argentea but these have never survived more than a year or two, probably because of winter wet.

This is a slow growing palm and worth a try throughout the UK and Ireland as long as the soil is not too wet. If it is, then plant it in a tub. It is reputed to survive -15c but this will be dependent on perfect soil drainage. Anyway, give it a go.



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