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Palms, the Journal of the IPS

Pelagodoza henryana in Fiji

R.H. (Dick) PHILLIPS, Suva, Fiji

Article reprinted with permission to post on palms.org from the Vol. 40, No 3, Principes (renamed Palms in 1999), Journal of the International Palm Society © 1996 The International Palm Society, All rights reserved

This excerpt is the first two pages of the article that originally appeared in the July 1996 issue of Principes.  Several photos accompany the article and the back cover shows an impressive display of items described in this informative article.  Back issues are available through our online shopping cart while supplies last.

Pelagodoxa henryana Becc. is a rare palm from Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands reportedly growing in dense rain forest about 135 in above sea level in a humid valley. This description from Genera Palmarum probably gives some indication of the rarity of the palm. Its status on the island is doubtful in that one search party was unable to locate the palm, but another report speaks of collecting fruit.

Just how and when this palm reached Fiji I do not know. John Parham (Plants of the Fiji Islands 1972) reports that three specimens had been growing in the Suva Botanical Gardens (now the Thurston Gardens) but that they had died. The photograph in Genera Palmarum (p. 142) was certainly taken in the Thurston Gardens, but although I have lived in Fiji for many years, I do not remember having seen the palm.

My real interest in palms began in about 1976 -- I attended my first International Palm Society Biennial in 1978 -- and I assumed that Pelagodoxa henryana had been lost to Fiji. However, I kept looking in all the old gardens in Suva and encouraged several friends to do the same. My best collector was Nacani, who seemed to have inumerable relatives who died with monotonous regularity; as a result, he was always short of money. He came to my house one day with an almost round, smooth seed, slightly smaller than a golf ball and announced that it was the seed of a palm. I had never seen a palm seed that looked like that so I demanded an explanation. The more details Nacani gave me, the more excited I became, particularly when he mentioned the corky warts on the fruit.

He led me to an abandoned garden quite close to the Thurston Gardens and there, in all its glory, was the palm. It took only a quick look for me to know that it was P. henryana. Better still was the fact that it was loaded with several hundred seeds in various stages of development and, on the ground below, there were about 40 seedlings growing strongly.

Fortunately, I knew the owner of the property so we stole all the seedlings and then phoned and told the owner what we had done. As I expected, he approved. The seedlings grew well, as did many more plants, which I have grown from seeds from this palm. Over the years I have sold and given away more than 100 palms to friends who had fairly permanent gardens. Four specimens have been planted in the Botanical Gardens section of the University of the South Pacific in Suva and three in the Thurston Gardens (Fig. 1). All of these are growing well.

Collectors coming to Fiji have also been happy to take a few seeds with them, and it soon became known, through the Palm Society, that there was a fruiting P. henryana in Fiji. This led to numerous letters asking for seed. The request I do remember was from Germany -- a Society member rang me to see whether seed was available. Unfortunately he forgot that there was a 12-hour time difference between Germany and Fiji. At 3 a.m. I was not very receptive to a request for seed!

A member in southwestern England wrote asking for seed. As I had a friend flying to the U.K., it was arranged that he would carry two seedlings. The member rode a bus from his home to Heathrow, picked up the seedlings, and rode the bus back to his home. The seedlings were out of the ground for not much more than 60 hours and were not troubled by the trip half way around the world.  They grew well...