|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
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...