The History of Howeia

(page 2)

Since World War II, tourism has become an increasingly important form of employment for island residents, but the Kentia palm still remains Lord Howe's only significant export, providing most of the income needed by the island administration. Early records of palm exports are extremely rare on Lord Howe Island itself as there was no official administration on the Island until 1913, and no real records maintained until then. To delve back into the beginnings of the industry, it was necessary to leave the Island and travel to Europe where Kentias had been imported as early as the 1870s.

The late 19th century was the heyday of botanical interest in England and Europe. Horticultural companies employed collectors to travel to exotic locations around the world, scouring recently colonised lands for anything botanically new. Tons of live plants were forwarded back to Europe, enclosed in specially constructed Wardian cases strapped to the decks of sailing vessels. It was a status symbol for wealthy Europeans to maintain hothouses on their estates and homes. Prices for exotica were high - even so, these hothouses were crammed with the latest overseas botanical curiosities. Palms found favour fairly late in the day, but when they did they were in high demand. Perhaps in the cool temperate European environment, palms evoked an attractive image of tropical luxuriance.

The first horticultural catalogues to list Kentias appeared in 1871. These were probably live specimens sent across from Lord Howe Island. Within just a few years, the Kentia became established as the doyen of indoor potted palms. Glowing descriptions of its qualities appeared in horticultural journals all over Europe. In a book of greenhouse plants of the time (l 876) we read, 'Kentias are handsome, robust plants with pinnate leaves, which, together with petiole & stem, are quite destitute of spines. They are splendid objects for the decoration of the greenhouse or conservatory, and succeed admirably during the Sumner months in the subtropical garden, and in addition may be used with splendid effect as table decorators, when in a young state. Native of Lord Howe's island'

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