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From San Francisco to Mexico, the Mediterranean fan palm is highly sought after due to its hardiness and its striking, exotic look. Along with the Chinese Windmill Palm (Trachycarpus fortunei) and perhaps the Brazilian needle palm (Trithrinax acanthocoma) the Mediterranean ranks among the hardiest of palms. The look of this palm varies in appearance greatly; not only do its triangular fan-shaped leaves vary from blue- to grey-green in color, but its thin reddish trunks can sprout new growth fairly quickly (known as a clustered habit) and depending on their manicuring can look like a very tropical grouping of mini-palms or a stouter, more shrub-like beauty. A perfect specimen in any sized yard or in clusters surrounding commercial properties, rows of this popular palm are also often seen decorating medians along Southern California roadways.
The only palm native to Europe, the Mediterranean fan palm grows wild in Italy and Spain and along the Mediterranean coast from the French Rivera to Northern Africa. Stemming from the greek and latin roots meaning low to the ground and dwarf, Chamaerops humilis is perfectly adapted for Southern California.
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How we measure palms
Conditions for Growth
The Mediterranean fan palm is drought resistant and tolerates a variety of environments, from sea level to a few thousand feet elevation. It is found as far north as San Francisco and south to the Mexican border. Able to withstand temperatures well below freezing, and in some cases temporary stress down to 15 degrees, this palm thrives equally well in the hot desert sun with decent soil and regular watering. Few palms are so forgiving given any combination of poor soil, drought, wind, full desert sun or partial shade, temperatures both freezing and hot at elevations low and high, even surviving in granite, rocky outcroppings.
Given good conditions, shelter from wind swept areas, along with a bit of water and decent alkaline-rich soil, the Mediterranean Fan palm will provide a wonderful, striking multi-trunk specimen with deep green leaves and multiple curved trunks. They grow nicely in tubs, planters or containers for many years.
Growth Rate and Size
Given a rather slow growth rate of 3-4 inches per year, it can take many years to reach a mature height of 10-18 feet. Neglected specimens can max out around 6-8 feet in height. Large specimens of are a prized find. The stem is covered with dense, fibrous brown persistent leaf bases.
The most common habit of the Mediterranean Fan features a cluster of stems, or trunks, generally with a dominant trunk and smaller clusters arching out from a common base.
The leaf branch, or petiole, length ranges from 3-5 feet and features unusual armature, with short, pointed teeth that sweep forward, nearly parallel to the petiole, their tips pointed toward the leaf. The leaves are persistent, and depending on preference, should undergo periodic trimming.
The stiff, palmate leaf emanates from the petiole and grows up to 3 feet in width, with a deep green to silvery green color. Segments split the leaf in various lengths down to about half the length of the leaf. The leaves are deeply divided, induplicate, and bifid at the tips.
The flowering bracts are quite short, borne within the crown of leaves, and can feature striking, globulous, yellow-orange to bright red-orange fruit.
The Chamaerops humilis trunk is clustered, with an apleonanthic flowering habit, reaching a height of 10 to 18 feet cultivated, but normally smaller in natural habitat. Slow growth rate of 6 inches per year. The leaves are strongly persistent and fibrous and when mature and/or free of leaf bases reveal a grey, corky, rough rings stem pattern. The leaf is about 3 feet in diameter, deeply and variously divided, stiff segments, split at tips, palmate, silvery green to blue green with induplicate splitting along adaxial ridges leaf divisions. The petiole is 3 to 5 feet long with fierce, short orange-redish teeth pointing toward the leaf armature. Fruit from this species is yellow, orange, or brown.