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It is considered threatened, the species exits on only one of the Cook Islands and this island is subject to Cyclones and there is always the possibility of tsunami or fire.
Distribution & Habitat:
Endemic only to the island of Mitiaro in the Cook Islands. Other than Cocos nucifera no palms are native to any of the other Islands in the group.
A large fan palm similar to P. pacifica and P. thurstonii, up to 25 metres high,"but with a robust slightly bulging grey-brown trunk up to 35 cm in diameter (Fig. 1). The petioles are lightly covered in wax. Leaf blades are glabrous above and covered underneath with thin white wax and abundant dark brown scales. The inflorescence is rather open, and shorter than the petioles, unlike the closely related P. thurstonii, (Fig. 2) However the globose fruits, being 7 mm diameter with seeds 5 mm diameter are similar to those of P. thurstonii, and are amongst the smallest of Pritchardia seeds.
The Mitiaro Palm is relatively well protected by being in the inaccessible centre of the makatea scrublands. In 1989 it was estimated that there were at least 330 large palms spread over an area of 25ha; with about half in an area of about 2.5ha. There are two small outlying clusters on the western outer edge of the makatea scrubland.
Not known to be in cultivation. Based on its habitat, it would be suited to alkaline soils in a coastal tropical climate.
A Visitors Experience:
by Jim Driese from Seattle I visited Mitiaro in October 2003. When I planned my trip, I had the choice of several islands but the fact that Mitiaro is home to the only endemic palm tree in the Cook Islands and I was unable to find photographs of this plant anywhere on the 'net were factors in my choosing this island. Unfortunately, I was only there for two nights; three to six nights would have been better. It wasn't difficult finding the trees -- I proceeded south from the main settlement on the circle island road and there was a large sign marking the trailhead leading to the Iniao (pronounced "een yow" the maori name for this palm tree). It was about a 20 minute walk across razor sharp makatea (fossilized coral) to a small grove of about 5 mature trees and one juvenile specimen approximately 7 feet tall. Mature specimens are about 20 - 30 feet tall with smooth trunks about 2 feet in diameter; having seen many specimens of genus pritchardia in various Hawaii botanic gardens, they looked much as I expected them to but I was surprised at how large they were. Surrounding these groves was an inpenetrable thicket of Pandanu atop maketea while the groves themselves were free of the jagged coral. The trail continued for about a 100 yards to a second and larger grove of about a dozen mature specimens and some immature ones. I took a circle island tour with a private guide and he pointed out a single isolated specimen in the distance remarking that there used to be a trail to it but it was overgrown. Rumor has it that many visitors from Rarotonga have tried to grow this tree from seed back home without success. It's entirely possible that the three aforementioned groves represent the entire population but it is also possible that there are some isolated inaccessible groves nearby. None of the locals knew of any so all indications are that this is an extremely rare palm tree. The palms are in good condition and Mitiaro has relatively few of the invasive plants and birds that plague the other islands in the southern Cooks. It was nice not seeing any Myna birds and the Mitiaro airport does more thorough checks for invasive species than any of the other islands I visited including the international airport in Rarotonga.
Dransfield and Ehrhart, A new species of Pritchardia from Mitiaro,
Cook Islands, Principes, 39(1) 1995 pp36-41.
Cook Islands Biodiversity Database v.2005 (Figure 1&2)