The remarkable palm family, with over 1,100 species, is mainly a tropical and subtropical one. It contains some of the world's most useful plants, such as oil palms, banana, coconut, and sago palm. The southernmost palm of all is found in New Zealand; it is abundant in lowland forests of the North Island, and appears as far south as Banks Peninsula and Hokitika in the South Island, and in the Chatham Islands.
The nikau palm grows to heights of 30 ft. The single stem – it is very seldom branched – is ringed by the scars left by the sheathing bases of the fallen leaves. Leaves range from about 4 to 8 ft long. Each is made up of numerous, narrow leaflets 2 to 3 ft long. The leaves are gathered together in a large head at the top of the stem which is seldom more than 9 in. thick. Flowers are in a dense panicle known as a spadix, which is 1 to 2 ft long, and appears at the base of the leaves. The fruit is a small, elliptical, bright red drupe about half an inch long. The Maoris used the nikau leaves in their whares. The top of the stem is fleshy and juicy and is sometimes eaten.
There is only one other species in the genus Rhopalostylis, namely R. cheesemanii, which is found in the Kermadec Islands. It grows to heights of 60 ft.
by Alec Lindsay Poole, M.SC., B.FOR.SC., F.R.S.N.Z., Director-General of Forests, Wellington.