Palm

05_Palma_01

Palm can be found all along the Mediterranean coast of the Iberian peninsula. It thrives in various soil types, although it is most commonly found on dry land and in sunny exposures. Capable of withstanding both cold and intense heat, it can even survive in very poor soil. Similarly, crafts utilising this plant can be found in the South of Portugal, mirroring its geographical presence.

Name of Material in the local and Latin language
Palma, Chamaerops humilis L.
Type of Material
Organic
Commonly Found Locations
South of Portugal, most commonly on dry land and in sunny exposures.

Colour
Leafs are dark green, turning beige by desiccation.
Hardness
This dwarf palm is the only spontaneous Palm species occurring in continental Europe. It prefers warm temperatures (15º C or higher) but several authors mention it can withstand temperatures as low as -5º C.
Structure
As the epithet ‘humilis’ hints, this is usually a small, slow growing, multi-stem plant. The fibres in its leaves can also be used to make mats, brushes and ropes.

Industrial and Crafts Applications
Palm is most known for its use in “empreita” baskets and floor mats
Historical or Cultural Uses
Traditionally palm weaving was used to make baskets for salt transport, panniers for the donkeys, shopping bags, as a recipient for a hand operated stone mill, brooms, containers for dried figs, food baskets and fans for fires and grills.
Environmental Impact
The traditional treatment of palm used in basketry can have negative implications due to the application of a sulphur bath to whiten the leaves. Sulphur is classified as a pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency, and SO2, a toxic gas released during this process, poses a threat to both environmental and human health.

Extraction Methods
The palm is harvested by hand between June and September.
Processing Techniques
After harvesting, the palm dries in the sun, and the leaves are stripped into small strips. Before using it, it has to be moistened.
Sustainability and Environmental Considerations
Due to its resistance and ability to burst after burning, it has a high ecological value in preventing erosion.
Recycling and Waste Management
100% biodegradable if not mixed with any chemical product or material.

Interesting Facts or Historical Anecdotes
Initially serving as a complement to agricultural work, alongside esparto production, palm work involved crafting coarser artefacts designed for demanding tasks like working in salt pans or transporting heavy loads in agriculture. The production of palm items was predominantly undertaken by women, who balanced these tasks with domestic chores, with a higher incidence during winter.
Relevant Organizations, Associations, Producers
Casa da Empreita - Loulé Criativo, Projecto TASA
  • PT_Palm_Nature Profile©Pedro Arsenio_02

    Photo by Pedro Arsénio

  • PT_Palm_Nature Profile©Pedro Arsenio_01

    Photo by Pedro Arsénio

Palma (palm, Chamaerops humilis L.) is an organic material found in the northern and southern southeast of Portugal, with a high incidence in the Barrocal Algarvio, highlighting its predominance in the Loulé area.

Found in xerophilic scrub and scrubland, on sunny and stony slopes, and less frequently on coastal cliffs, it occurs in dry and stony soils, derived from sandstone, limestone or shale, acidic or basic. It thrives in various soil types, although it is most commonly found on dry land and in sunny exposures. Capable of withstanding both cold and intense heat, it can even survive in very poor soil. Very abundant in the limestone soils of the Algarve and Andalusia, flowering takes place in March and April, and harvesting is done between the months of June and September. The inner part, the cores of new leaves, is collected, which is more tender and from which the softest fibers are extracted. The leaves are separated in small strips and placed to dry in the sun during the day; to maintain the green color, it must dry in the shade. Before using it, it has to be moistened. 

Crafts utilising this plant can be found in the South of Portugal, mirroring its geographical presence, and are most known for their use in “empreita” baskets and floor mats. Traditionally, palm weaving was used to crafting coarser artefacts designed for demanding tasks, like baskets for transporting heavy loads in agriculture, salt transport, panniers for the donkeys, shopping bags, as a recipient for a hand operated stone mill, brooms, containers for dried figs, food baskets and fans for fires and grills. In fact, it initially served as a complement to agricultural work, alongside esparto production.

The production of palm items was predominantly undertaken by women, who balanced these tasks with domestic chores, with a higher incidence during winter. According to locals, there isn’t enough quality palm for production – since also only a small part of the plant can be used – and so most use locally wild harvested palm combined with palm bought from Spain. Due to its resistance and ability to burst after burning, it has a high ecological value in preventing erosion, and is 100% biodegradable if not mixed with any chemical product or material. Environmental impacts are currently unknown.

Both Loulé Criativo, with Casa da Empreita, and Projecto TASA have been doing relevant work on promoting the basketry made with palm through the creation of pieces as well as workshops.

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