Plant Collector: Syagrus romanzoffiana

The towering Queen Palm, or Syagrus romanzoffiana growing in coastal Taranaki

The towering Queen Palm, or Syragus romanzoffiana growing in coastal Taranaki

I asked Mark how tall he thought our queen palms are. Mentally I was stacking 2 metre men on top of each other which is how I estimate tree heights. “About eighty feet,” Mark replied, “to the top of the crown.” I leave it in imperial feet because it sounds more impressive than 25 metres. They are tall, these handsome palms, and we have three of them. All were planted in the late 1950s by Felix Jury, from seed given to him by one of the Australian botanic gardens. Not that they are an Australian native. These are South American palms, coming from that mid band where Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia meet.

The single trunks are tall and slender and the impressive top knot houses an entire condominium of nesting birds. In spring time, there are often small, lightly feathered corpses at the base because fledglings are not going to survive a fall of that magnitude. It is mostly sparrows with the occasional starling. We often sit in a spot which looks out to one palm and the amount of comings and goings are prodigious.

I read advice on line that said: “the fronds die early and must be pruned to keep the tree visually pleasing”. No, we do not get the extension ladder out to groom our queen palms. Fronds do indeed die but they detach themselves in time and crash to the ground. As the sheaf of the frond is quite substantial, you don’t want special plants beneath and you certainly wouldn’t want one of these beside a building or near the car.

S. romanzoffiana is a suitable substitute for the common bangalow palm. While there are reported incidents of it escaping into the more tropical wilds of Australia, it has nowhere near the weed potential of the bangalow and we have never heard of it being a problem in NZ.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.