Monday, February 20, 2012

European Fan Palm

European Fan Palm, Chamaerops humilisDrawing by Desmond Muirhead, 1961
The only palm native to Europe and found in Spain, Italy, on the islands of Sardinia and Sicily as well as in the North African countries of Algeria and Morocco; it is considered a relic of a former tropical flora. In Australia it is less commonly seen, unlike the Canary Island Date palm which is almost considered weedy, though the reason for this is that this fan palm is dioecious having separate male and female trees and therefore subject to dodgy pollination.It is also extremely slow growing making only about 10cm. growth per year ,more, if given special attention to soil and fertilizer requirements. Eventually it will form a clump of several trunks to about 5 metres,
In Australia we are spoilt for choice as far as the variety of palms we can grow so it not surprising to read David Jones comments on this one in Palms in Australia. He calls it 'strongly spined and rather unfriendly' though very suitable for cold climates. American writer Desmond Muirhead in his book Palms is kinder and gives a good rap as to why it appealed to landscape architects such as the great Thomas Church.

Sleek modernism using the European Fan Palm
Stuart Company Building
Pasadena, California
Landscape Architect:Thomas Church
Muirhead was writing at a time when landscape architects were starting to demand mature specimens of plants (hang the expense!) for immediate impact, a practice which is more common today.
He enthuses over it saying:'As a landscape subject, the Mediterranean fan palm is unsurpassed, with its fine form and character and a presence which demands attention. This palm is especially effective with interesting backgrounds like grilles, plain walls or murals, and foregrounds of yuccas, aloes, or large blue agaves and in fact all types of succulents and cacti.' He also recommends the use of lighter foliaged trees like Jacaranda or Albizzia julibrissin to compliment the picture. It is always a joy to read about how a plant can be placed in a landscape and not just a horticultural description as to how it will grow.

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