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Chamaerops humilis L. (Botanical Garden in Catania. Photo P. Minissale)

Chamaerops humilis L.

Area of origin - Mediterranean areas.

Etymology - Its generic name derives from Greek chamai = down to the ground, underground, and rops = side-shoot, shrub, with reference to the plant habit which is also referred to by its Latin specific name.

Botanical description - Plant exhibiting a shrub habit, either acaulescent or bearing multiple stems, up to 2 m tall, at times even 6-8 m tall when cultivated, covered with fibres and the remains of leaf petioles. Its leaves are persistent, fan-shaped, rigid and erect, borne on long and slender petioles armed with lateral spines; the lamina is split into 16-20 pointed segments.

Its flowers, either unisexual or hermaphrodite, are small, yellow coloured, clustered in thick panicles arising from among the leaf petioles; they are enveloped by a bivalve spathe. Fruits are fleshy, ovoid, yellow-reddish in colour, 2-3 cm long, not edible.

Uses - In all Western Mediterranean Countries, where it grows spontaneously, the leaves of the Dwarf Fan Palm are always utilised for various kinds of wickerwork.

Its buds are employed as food (palm-cabbage), chiefly in North Africa, but also in Sicily where it is known as "ciafagghiuni".