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Rhopalostylis sapida

The New Zealand Nikau

Rhopalostylis sapida, nikau is New Zealand’s only palm making it one of the most easily recognised plants
It is the southernmost palm in the world.

It is fairly common in coastal and inland forests of the North Island, and appears as far south as Banks Peninsula on the east and Greymouth on the west of the South Island and in the Chatham Islands.

The nikau palm prefers shaded gullies, depressions and at the bottom of steep slopes where moisture is abundant.
Rhopalostylis sapida Ripe fruit March 2011 1
It is a very striking feature plant, with a distinctive tropical appearance and strong dramatic shape.

It is very slow growing but can reach a height of 10m or more. and can take 15 years or more to form a trunk.
The leaf bases are large and encircle the trunk. The trunk is ringed by the scars left by the sheathing bases of the fallen leaves.

It can take 30 years or more for the nikau to start flowering and fruiting.

It has purple flowers in Spring followed by brilliant-red hard berries which hang from just below the base of the leaves.
The berries take a year to ripen. The nectar and berries are food for native birds.


The nikau is not transplanted easily as it has a tap root and even if the roots are slightly damaged it will die. It requires moist shade to semi-shade when young.

The nikau can be planted in the full sun but its leaves will be more upright and and dry on the tips. It will tolerate light frosts only.

Use compost and mulch when planting the nikau to retain moisture and protect from wind when young. It is propagated by seed.
Plant the nikau in groups for effect.

The Great Barrier Island form is much faster growing than the mainland form.

The nikau from the Kermadec Islands Rhopalostylis baueri var. cheesemanii has much broader leaves and a denser habit and is much faster growing

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