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  • Writer's pictureAmy Christmas

A Hawaii Artist discovers beauty and more in Island Sourced Materials!

Alexander Palm-Archontophoenix alexandrae

-4 Things you may not know about this Kauai plant

Forest & Kim Starr, Starr Environmental

1. What is it? The Alexander Palm has several common names including King Palm, and King Alexander Palm, and Alexandra Palm. It is a solitary stemmed evergreen belonging to the Palm family. It can get up to 100’ tall with smooth grey trunk diameter averaging about 10 “, and obvious rings of leaf scars. It is considered an ornamental. Its leaves average 6-10’ long, are pinnate with each leaf being divided into many leaflets which all grow on the same plane and are a dark green on top and underside being more of a whitish grey. The inflorescence or fruiting branches are comprised of multitudes of cascading branches, and have both cream colored male and female flowers on the same branches, followed by small 1/2” round red fruits. The leaves of this palm are held more erectly than other palms with large leaves. Its spread 10-14’ typically. Mature plants will handle some cold temps of no lower than 29 degrees F, some drought, wind, and poor soil. It grows fairly fast as it becomes more established. The Alexander prefers shade when young and boggy lowland areas, fertile soils, often lining river beds making it an aid in preventing soil erosion. The palm's continuous fruiting produces an abundance of fruit and seeds often sprouting readily where they fall. The Alexander Palm has actually considered to be a possible invasive species in places it has naturalized.

2. Where did it come from? Native to Eastern Australia, in Queensland, the Alexander Palm has been widely planted in many subtropical and tropical places as an ornamental. It was first introduced in Hawaii more than 100 years ago with very few being planted in 1928 on both Hawaii and Maui in their forest reserves and has naturalized in on Big Island from Hilo to the Hamakua coast creating a very impressive stand and rumored to have been started by air-dropping seed in the area after a large fire. There are groves of trees in Maui's Hana area and here on Kauai, I have had the pleasure of visiting 2 properties where they grow creating a beautiful palm forest. The fruits are traditionally eaten by several bird species along with fruit bats in Australia.

3. When is the best time for collecting?

This palm is "self-cleaning" meaning it drops its fronds and fruiting branches when they are mature-making it easy for us to pick them up as needed. They store well in open-air containers indefinitely.

4. How are the collected plant parts used?

We use the beautiful frond to create baskets and sometimes pouches. The fruiting branches are used on our bud vases and to create the wreath on our Hawaiian Tree Topper Angel.

*Amy is a University of Hawaii Certified Master Gardener Emeritus, has a Bachelor of Science-Landscape Horticulture degree from Ohio State, has been a volunteer tour guide at NTBG, and is a self-proclaimed "plant nut"! She and her husband Ron have been making and selling their baskets for more than 20 years.



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