The European fan palm is the only palm native to Europe. Its other common name is Mediterranean fan palm as it grows in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Spain, Portugal, France and Italy. It grows from coastal zones to 3000 feet in elevation, where it survives occasional snow cover. As its name implies, the leaves look like fans.
European fan palms grow slowly to 8 feet tall by 6 feet wide; their scientific name, Chamaerops humilis, emphasizes their relatively short stature because Chamaerops means dwarf bush and humilis means low-growing.
Europeans fan palms are so strikingly beautiful that they merit being planted singly as focal points in a garden. The fronds can vary from light blue green to silver green. They have such extraordinary variations in hue that it is difficult to find a matching pair of these palms at a nursery. Underplantings of bright red annuals, such as the New Guinea impatiens in the photo above, accentuate the color of the palm leaves. European fan palms grow naturally with multiple trunks, but they can be pruned and trained to grow with a single trunk. They are easy to grow and can thrive in light shade or full sun.
When you see these palms at the Lyons Road entrance of VR, and in occasional VR front yards, you can amaze your friends and family by telling them that the northernmost naturally occurring palm in the world is right before their eyes!
Labeled photos of this and many other VR palms can be found as a slideshow
on my blog: Botanicaltours.weebly.com and can also be seen on the VR HOA website in the Landscaping publication entitled “Plant Identification.”
P.S. Looking for a fun inexpensive pandemic-compatible activity? I suggest ordering a laminated folding guide called Common Palms of the Southeast by Alan Meerow. There are over twenty different species of palms in VR, and it is fun to try to identify as many as you can.
Thirty-six solitaire palms border the VR clubhouse; those pictured above line the walkway to the pool area. These Australian natives are most easily identified by their skinny four-inch trunks. If you can walk up to a mature palm in VR and encircle its trunk with your two hands, it is probably a solitaire palm. If you want to clinch the ID, check out the leaves: the edge of each leaflet of a leaf appears cut-off and jagged (see photo insert).
The solitaire palm is so-called because it naturally grows as a solitary plant.
The scientific name is Ptychosperma elegans because the seed (sperma) has a fold
(ptyche). The epithet is elegans, perhaps because there is a certain elegance in being so skinny.
As Wallis Simpson said, “You can’t be too rich or too thin!”
Solitaire palms are an excellent choice for a small area. They are easily grown in medium shade to full sun, are self-cleaning (meaning that the dead leaves fall off naturally) and live to fifty years old. They do have some downsides: messy flowers and seeds, allergenic pollen, and susceptibility to Ganoderma (an incurable fungus) and spiraling whitefly.
Because solitaire palms are so skinny, they can look lost in the landscape. There are numerous ways to get around that. First, buying plants where two or three seeds were started in one pot will give a multi-trunked effect that will make more of a statement in the landscape—some of the solitaires around the clubhouse are planted as twins. Second, spacing single specimens close together (3–5 feet apart) results in more of a presence. Third, planting solitaires of different heights can be an effective technique for adding interest. Finally, adding understory plants such as cycads or small palms of other types can fill the space left by the skinny trunks.
While they are thin, do remember that their eventual height is 20-25 feet and that there is no way to maintain them (or any other single-trunk palm for that matter) at a shorter height. Palms, unlike trees, are not genetically programmed to re-sprout if the central trunk is cut: they simply die.
The next time you walk around the Clubhouse, see if you can find all thirty-six solitaire palms, remembering that some are planted as clumps of two. And, as you exit VR onto 441, notice that the median is planted with solitaires. If the gardeners do not cut off the flowers in a misplaced attempt at neatness, a beautiful display of red palm fruits is in store.
Silver-spotted skipper enjoying nectar from Salvia farinacea
Many Floridians say “eureka” palm when they mean to say “areca” palm. “Eureka” is, of course, the exclamation on the discovery of gold! But where did “areca” come from? The story goes that a gardener saw the plant family name “Arecaceae” on a label and shortened it to “areca.” Since all palms are in the plant family Arecaceae, not just this one, there is humor in the origin of the name, if you appreciate botanical jokes!
Another common name for this palm is butterfly palm: the leaves arch like butterflies. Yet another common name is yellow bamboo palm: the stems are reminiscent of bamboo. The scientific name is Dypsis lutescens. Lutescens means yellow, and if you look at these palms, many parts are yellow or yellow-green including the stems, the leaves (see photo insert), the flowers and the fruits.
The VR HOA Rules and Regulations do not allow these palms to be used as hedges around individual homes: “… the installation of Areca hedges upon a LOT shall not be permitted.” They are used as hedges along some canals, where they make fabulous screens because of their multiple stems and tolerance of shearing: note the hedge along the canal seen from Beverly Glen Road. A few homes in VR do have small clumps of areca palms that are maintained as manicured specimens, rather than as hedges.
Areca palms can live for 50 years. They grow in dense shade to full sun, growing fuller in the sun. The roots stay put in small hurricanes, although the leaves may be torn. Negative qualities include susceptibility to spiraling whitefly and ganoderma (a fungus) and a “natural” look with yellowing and browning leaves requiring frequent trimming for a neat appearance.
Areca palms are naturalized in South Florida, meaning that they are established in Florida despite their origin from a foreign place, in this case Madagascar. Whether you call them “eureka palm,” “areca palm,” or “Dypsis lutescens,” they are easy to identify: look for a 15-foot -high cluster or hedge of feathery palms with butterfly leaves and bamboo stems. Pictured is a lovely group just outside the gate by the VR lap pool.
Labeled photos of this and many other South Florida palms can be found as a slideshow
on this blog.
Katherine Wagner-Reiss has her botany Certificate from the New York Botanical Garden, where she is a volunteer tour guide.