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Nīkau Palm

The world’s most cold-hardy palm, making it unique in New Zealand’s forest.

Nīkau Palm
Rhopalostylis sapida
Can grow as high as
9m
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More about this tree

  • The world’s most cold-hardy palm, nīkau is found naturally from North Cape to Akaroa, and grows in large quantities on the west cost of the South Island.
  • One translation of ‘nīkau’ is ‘without nuts' (some say Māori looked to the nīkau hoping for familiar coconuts when they arrived in New Zealand). An alternative translation is ‘only leaves’: the nīkau has lots of leaves originating from a single stalk.
  • Pink flowers are produced between November and April, which emerge like tentacles from the trunk, just below the lowest frond. Fruits ripen from February to November, taking almost a year to fully ripen. 
  • The undeveloped flower can be eaten, as can the unripe green berries.
  • The ripe red berries are incredibly dense and are a favourite of the native kererū.
  • Nīkau was a very versatile plant for traditional Māori uses. Leaves were used for thatching, weaving and wrapping food, berries for eating and necklaces, trunk for storage containers and pots.
  • The heart of the fronds (te rito) can be cooked and eaten, but it is often referred to as ‘Millionaire’s salad’ as harvesting te rito kills the tree.
  • Medicinally, nīkau pith was used as a laxative and also to relax the muscles of the pelvic floor, making labour easier.
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