The Red Crownshaft Palm in New Zealand
Time has passed and the plants from the original
collection are now eight years old and looking quite wonderful.
Dick Endt, Landsendt, 108 Parker Road, Oratia, Auckland, N.Z.
Chamaerops No.31 Summer 1998
Coming -of-age: The famous Red Crownshaft palm,
now flourishing in New Zealand
Going back some ten years ago I became confronted
with this most unusual and spectacular palm while travelling in
the remote southern part of Ecuador. Ecuador is a paradise of plants,
a paradise lost in a way as more and more of the accessible areas
are stripped of vegetation to make way for cattle farming and various
forms of subsistence agriculture. Fortunate for me perhaps that
in recent years new roads have been constructed opening up new areas
of forests inaccessible before. This allowed us to venture into
regions little explored and to enjoy the splendour of nature perhaps
unparalleled in other parts of the world.
In recent times a new road has been constructed from
Vilcabamba to Valledolid in the very South of Ecuador. The highlight
of our visit to this region were the many palms which grow in the
moist, high altitude forest. One place known as the Inca trail refers
to the ancient Inca highway which until recently was still used
by the inhabitants of Valledolid to find their way to Vilcabamba.
Now disused and much overgrown, it still inspires awe when one considers
that this road, constructed using boulders, now largely gouged out
by deep ruts and water channels, was made so many hundreds of years
ago as a main source of communication during the Inca empire.
At the point where the new road crosses the old Inca
trail we stopped to have a closer look at all the new (to us) palms
around us. The most unmistakable was the Red Crownshaft palm (Geonoma
undata). The palm itself is rather slender trunked, fairly tall
growing topped by a splendid, dense, deep green canopy. Projected
over the top of the canopy are the newly developing leaves bronze
green in colour opening out into a spiky looking feather.
The leaves are rather odd, often the leaflets are
broad at the base and pointed at the apex, the tips often bent down,
the appearance of the crown rather ruffled-looking. Even more unusual
is the brilliant red crownshaft supporting the base of the leaf
stems. These palms catch the eye and suggest that such a splendour
of colour is associated with more tropical palms. We were fortunate
enough to collect ripe seeds of these palms which now, ten years
later, have become very much admired and talked about in New Zealand.
The tallest growing so far are about 3m in height while most others
are a little less than that. I can now afford the luxury of observing
the Red Crownshaft palm through my bedroom window, growing outside,
open to the elements and just thriving.
We are fortunate in our part of New Zealand in that
our climate here is very similar to the high altitude regions of
the Andes, never really cold yet not very hot either. I am watching
this palm outside my window very closely. The red crownshaft does
not become visible until the palm reaches the age of eight years
by which time the palm starts to accelerate in growth, shown on
the trunk as widening spacing of leaf scars.
During the warmest months of Summer the palm stops
growing. New leaf spears develop but will not open out. As many
as four or five leaf spears of variable length can be observed at
one time. As soon as the cooler Autumn weather starts these spears
will open out in rapid succession. New leaves appear throughout
the year, one or two a month.
One phenomenon which I hadnt observed in Ecuador
is the fact that newly developing roots emerging from the periphery
around the base of the trunk are bright red also. Why should new
vegetative growth be red in colour? One suggestion is that perhaps
the red new shoots are unattractive to chewing insects. As soon
as the new growth hardens off will the colour green develop, essential
for the plant in the photosynthesis process?
The hardiness of the red crownshaft palm is about
the same as the Kentia palm, Howea fosteriana. -4 deg.C will kill
young palms growing outside without protection. Older palms are
likely to be more resistant to cold. The leaves of this palm are
rather susceptible to thrips, particularly when grown indoors.
Hopefully it will become more widely available in the future so
that more enthusiasts will be able to try this fabulous palm in
their own gardens.
27-09-21 - 12:48GMT
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