The ripening seed on the Pitt Island nikau palm
The botanical name for this native plant does not trip off the tongue easily. It is much easier to refer to it as a nikau palm. And yes, it is indeed a palm. In fact it is the world’s southernmost palm. This form is even more south eastern than most, as it is from Pitt Island. Nikaus are often regarded as very slow growing but it is curious fact that the variation that is endemic to the Chatham Islands (which includes Pitt) is much faster growing and sets viable seed years earlier than the mainland form. They are hardy throughout most of New Zealand (except for deep inland or alpine areas) but not widely seen internationally because they don’t like extremes of heat, dry conditions or the cloaking of cold, dry arctic air which is very different to the chilly air movement that we get with wintery blasts.
The handsome crown of the nikau palm
Nikaus are exceptionally handsome plants but they get large. This plant is already around eight metres to the top of its crown and the arching fronds are about four metres long. It will keep growing and get larger. In the juvenile stage, the unfurling fronds wrap around the whole plant and the shape is reminiscent of an old fashioned shaving brush or feather duster but that hardly does justice to these handsome plants. We find that they seed down very readily throughout our garden and we just dig out those plants in inappropriate places. They are not the easiest plant to transplant as they get larger. Their roots go straight down and you have dig well below the base plate to extricate them without damage. The seed turning red is a sign that it is ripe.
Too much of a good thing - self sown nikau palms.
LATEST POSTS: Friday January 14, 2011
1) Is it possible to define the New Zealand garden? I try at least to isolate common threads without necessarily defining a single style. Abbie’s column.
2) I had hoped that the pink form of Schizophragma hydrangeoides would be in bloom this week to photograph but alas it appears as if our large plant is not going oblige with any flowers at all this year. So despite the fact that I used a photograph on Tikorangi Notes last week, I had to resort to using the white form for Plant Collector – but with plant notes as well.
3) Garden tasks for this week of full summer.
By definition, we don’t call self sown seedlings of our native plants weeds here – that derisory term is reserved for introduced plants. But doing battle with runaway native plants has been the order of the week. Ironically, one is the world’s southernmost palm, the nikau (or Rhopalostylis sapida). Handsome though it is, you can have too much of
Self sown kawakawa showing typical shot holes in the leaf
The creeping rata - puts down roots wherever it touches, whether in the ground or clinging to a host tree
a good thing and the multiple plants we had let get away in one shaded border were far too numerous, ranging in size from a few centimetres to well established plants of considerable stature. Also seeding everywhere is the tall shrub we call kawakawa or pepper tree (Macropiper excelsum), much prized by traditional Maori for its medicinal and restorative uses and a handy windbreak but not a plant of great beauty. But the most troublesome offender is the rata vine (a metrosideros). It is fine when it scrambles up a tree trunk (though it will eventually kill the host tree which will then cause us a problem when it falls over) but it had spread its tentacles everywhere in an impenetrable mat through the border. It is not as if it flowers down low – a typical climber, it reaches the top of its climb and then flowers. Mark (who largely ignored the clean-up operation) breezily announced that it took twenty years for it become a big problem. As Lloyd and I battled it, we grimly decided that we would stay on top of its wayward habits from now on. If we leave it for another 20 years, we will be way too old and decrepit to curb its spread again.