How Cold Hardy Are Mediterranean Fan Palm Trees?

Chamaerops Humilis

Known as the most naturally occurring northern growing palm on the planet, the Mediterranean Fan palm or European Fan palm is a versatile, drought tolerant palm that is a perfect choice for climates ranging from cool Mediterranean to dry, desert areas.

They are a smaller, more compact choice for folks that have limited space and want something with a moderate growth rate, smaller crown and more versatility in areas with variable sunlight.

So, how cold hardy are Mediterranean Fan palm trees and are they a good choice for your area?  Let’s find out!

What Is It?

Known by its species name Chamaerops Humilis, it is one of only two palms native to the European region (the other being the Phoenix Theophrasti) and the only species in the genus.

There are green and blue forms of the Chamaerops palm that are native to different regions.

The more common green form is native to Southern Europe and the Western Mediterranean including Spain, Portugal, western Italy and southern areas of France.

The blue form, known as the Argentea (aka Cerifera) or the Blue Mediterranean Fan palm has become a popular choice in recent years. These palms have a striking blue color to their fronds, are native to the Atlas Mountains of Northern Africa and found at higher elevations.  They are a bit more slow growing and are slightly more cold hardy than the green form.

Group of Chamaerops Humilis palms - Encinitas, CA

While not as cold hardy, the Chamaerops Humilis looks similar and is closely related to the Trachycarpus genus, with a few exceptions.

Chamaerops are a clumping palms and will grow “suckers” or offshoots near the main trunk which will create a nice multi-trunking palm is left undisturbed. The suckers can be removed and propagated as an alternative to starting from seed, although they can be a challenge to separate and can go into decline if not done properly.

All forms of the Chamaerops also have heavily armed petioles that are a deterrent for small animals, so strong gloves are recommended it handling these trees.

The crown holds approximately 15-20 small sized palmate leaflets with the petioles getting up to 5 feet tall.  The palm itself usually won’t get more than 20 feet in height once mature.

Where Will It Grow?

The Mediterranean Fan palm, both green and blue forms, are a great choice for zone 8 and above, taking minimum temperatures down to around the 10F mark before showing any cold damage.

In some cases they can take into the high single digits of zone 7 if in a more protected part of your yard such as an entryway near the house or the side of a south-facing structure.

They are quite drought tolerant and can be found growing in dry desert regions as well as cooler Mediterranean areas of Europe and the Western regions of the U.S. and Canada. In the warmer, drier regions, such as the Southwest U.S. and the Middle East, regular watering will make them look their best as long as they have well draining soil.

Who Are They For?

Mediterranean Fan palms framing entry doorway

Since Mediterranean Fan palms only get to approximately 20 feet in height at their tallest, they are a great choice if you are limited with space or would like to have something near a walking path or swimming pool that will not overtake the area.

They are also relatively slow growing and will take many years to achieve their full height, so even if left in a grouping you won’t have to worry too much about them taking over your landscape in a short period of time.  Their slow growth and small size even make them a great choice as a potted palm for patios and corridors.

For those looking for color variation, combining the green form and the blue form can create an interesting look that will add a cool looking contrast with other common green form plantings in your landscape.

With their versatility for tolerating hot dry conditions as well as their hardiness for cool Mediterranean coastal climates, there are many areas that you can experiment with these palms.

They will also do okay in areas with high humidity, such as the southeast U.S. so give them a try if you live in places such as zone 8 areas of Texas, Louisiana and northern Florida.

Any Drawbacks?

As mentioned before, the Mediterranean Fan is heavily armed with extremely sharp thorns, especially the Argentia, so extreme care is needed when handling these palms, even with gloves.  I’ve cut myself a couple of times just trying to grab some seeds near the crown.

Crown rot can also be a problem if exposed to long periods of constant overhead moisture, especially in cooler coastal regions, so planting underneath larger trees or in entryways with an overhang in these wetter regions will help minimize the chance of this happening.

There are no serious pest issues with Chamaerops palms, but keep an eye out for some common soil pests such as spider mites and fungus gnats.  These problems are usually minimized with well draining soil such like cactus and succulent mix.  Mediterranean Fan palms also do best in these types of soils.

The Wrap Up

Grouping of Mediterranean Fan palms with suckers at the base.

Whether you live in the hot desert or the cool Mediterranean, the Chamaerops Humilis is a versatile choice for various regions.

Here are some previously mentioned key features of this palm:

  • Cold hardy to zone 8 and above.
  • Ideal for hot, dry or cooler, coastal regions.
  • Smaller stature ideal for limited space around pools and entryways.
  • Green and blue forms for adding color contrast and overall beauty to your landscape.
  • Heavily armed petioles.  Great care is needed when handling these palms!
  • Can be kept in a pot and brought indoors if needed.
  • Crown rot can develop in extreme periods of wet, cold conditions.

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