Rhopalostylis sapida

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Figure 1. Note the slightly tatty looking leaves.



Eora sapida,
Areca sapida

Common Names:

Nikau Palm,
Feather Duster Palm

Distribution & Habitat:

Rainforest and coastal areas of New Zealand, and surrounding islands.


A very distinctive palm, with its stiff, upright leaf arrangement (e.g. feather duster like). Leaves to about 2 m on plants in the sun, however, they can be considerably longer on plants growing in heavy shade. Grows to about 10 m in height, and has a very pronounced bulge at the base of the crown-shaft.


This is the southernmost naturally occurring palm in the world.


Because this is a temperate island dweller, it means it prefers a very mild climate, i.e. it can take light frost, and prefers cooler summers. It is very slow growing, taking up to 15 years to form a trunk. Try and find a wind free spot, since the leaves can get quite windblown and tatty.

Figure 2. Close up of the bulge in the crownshaft, and the inflorescence.
Figure 3. Attractive cluster of plants at the mouth of the Heaphy River, north-west South Island.
Figure 4. R. sapida inflorescence
Figure 5. R. sapida inflorescence close-up

Figure 6. 6 headed R. sapida

This photograph (left), which dates from the turn of the century, shows a freak six headed nikau from the Kaipara region. Protective fencing indicates the special local respect for this bizarre plant (given that much native bush was being cleared for agriculture at the time). This photograph was taken by Frank Blackwell, brother to Ellen Blackwell who was the co-author of the book "Plants of New Zealand", first published in 1906. It went on to become a classic and ran to seven editions over 60 years. A six headed Nikau, (possibly the same specimen as the one in the photograph) appears in her book (extracted from Summer 1994 magazine of the Palm and Cycad Society of New Zealand, with thanks to Malcolm Thomas)


Contributed by:

Mike Gray (Figure 1,2&3)
Ian Edwards (Figure 4&5)

External Links:

Kew, PalmWeb, IUCN, JSTOR, Trebrown, EPS, TERRAIN, Wikipedia

Google, Google Images, Flickr, PACSOA Forums, PalmTalk