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By bacchuspalms, Jun 28 2015 03:52PM

Well, this is a long-overdue note I began some months ago when I was in Auckland. Unless a miracle has occurred to the Queen Street Nikau palms however I imagine it’s still as relevant today.


I’m sure any visitor to Auckland will have been as struck as I was by the depressing state of the Nikau palm trees along Queen Street. It would be difficult to find more tatty and unhealthy looking palms in New Zealand. I needn’t elaborate – just take a look at the photographs below and you’ll see what I mean.


When I was at university in Auckland I remember Queen Street being lined with healthy trees. Anyway, something happened. The council paid a fortune for a number of mature Nikau palm trees. You can judge the results for yourself.


I shall refrain from commenting on the use of rate payer’s money or the merits of native and non-native plants. However, I would like to offer a defence of New Zealand’s only native palm. A palm which – to me at least – appears to have been grossly misused over the past ten or so years.


First of all some basics. The Nikau palm (Rhopalostylis sapida) is one of two species in the genus Rhopalostylis. The other, Rhopalostylis baueri, is the larger and more robust Kermadec Nikau from the Kermadec Islands and Norfolk Island. Like most things in life however it’s not that simple. Rhopalostylis sapida varies considerably so one finds quite different looking Nikau palms across mainland New Zealand as well as offshore islands. What matters though is that Nikau palms are generally found in damp, shady locations sheltered from the worst of the sun and wind.


The last point is an important one. Nikau palms look great planted in dark, sheltered locations. See for yourself the ones in the photographs. These were taken in the Auckland Domain, a short walk from Queen Street.


Also, note the conditions in the photograph of the fern garden (also in the Auckland Domain). It’s sheltered and lush. Quite the opposite in fact of sun-drenched and wind-swept Queen Street.


Not only are Nikau palms quite unsuited to such conditions but being slow growing they take many months to replace damaged leaves. For those planted in the wrong location that means perpetually yellowing and damaged plants.


I realise that it was, for a time (and possibly still today), politically correct to plant native plants in every commercial planting. Sadly that attitude has resulted in tens of thousands of sick Nikau palms scattered throughout the milder parts of the country. It’s not clever or kind but an unhealthy form of xenophobia which advocates that not only are native plants better than anything exotic but, rather bizarrely, by virtue of being native they can grow anywhere.


On a happier note just a few minutes’ walk away in Myers Park I saw some healthy young Nikau palms growing alongside equally robust Bangalow palms (Archontophoenix cunninghamiana). If you wander through the Auckland Domain you’ll find the same thing – healthy native and non-native plants growing together. As they should be.


I do hope that when the poor Nikau palms are removed from Queen Street our masters decide to plant something more appropriate to the location – be they palms or trees, native or exotic.



Queen Street Nikaus
Queen Street Nikaus
More unhealthy Nikau palms in Queen Street
More unhealthy Nikau palms in Queen Street
Close-up of the crown
Close-up of the crown
Healthy Nikaus in Auckland Domain
Healthy Nikaus in Auckland Domain
Mature Nikau in Auckland Domain
Mature Nikau in Auckland Domain
Healthy young Nikau in Auckland Domain
Healthy young Nikau in Auckland Domain
Fern garden in Auckland Domain
Fern garden in Auckland Domain
Healthy Bangalow and Nikau in Myers Park, Auckland
Healthy Bangalow and Nikau in Myers Park, Auckland
Mature Bangalow palms in Myers Park, Auckland
Mature Bangalow palms in Myers Park, Auckland
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