The phoenix palm problem

Phoenix palms are a serious problem in our neighbourhoods.


They pose a risk to people's safety from their spines, prevent native regeneration, and support pest species like rodents.


When small, they can be dug up and disposed of. But once established and larger they are much more difficult to deal with. So it's much better to get them early.


Please be aware of the risks when handling fallen fronds and only do so with the correct PPE and equipment. Read on to find out more.


What’s the problem with phoenix palm?


Phoenix palm have sharp spines that easily penetrate skin and often snap off, working their way deep into tissues in under 24 hours. And there are reports that they may also carry a toxin.


They definitely cause pain and can cause infection - often requiring surgery for complete removal. Injuries cost the community time off work and the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of dollars annually.


Not only are the spines found on leaf stalks dangerous, but the trunk fibres are extremely sharp and can puncture skin too.


PPE gear should be used when working with phoenix palm material, with extremely thick gloves and eye protection, or seek a professional to help.

Young phoenix palm tree with spikes at base of leaf fronds
Scary! Young phoenix palm tree showing large spikes at ends of leaf fronds

As well as the harm they cause humans, phoenix palms also damage our native ecosystems. They grow rapidly, out-competing native groundcover plants, shrubs and eventually trees due to their sheer size. They are also very sneaky. Seeds are spread and deposited deep in our native bush reserves.


These plants are in fact so damaging to us and our native New Zealand environment, that it is prohibited to breed, distribute, release, plant or sell phoenix palm within Auckland.


Young phoenix palm show early leaf spines at the base of the fronds
Young phoenix palm showing the early leaf spines at the base of the fronds

How to recognise phoenix palm


Identifying features:

  • Very large palms with wide trunks and rounded crown of leaves, giving adult trees a lollipop shape

  • Can grow up to 18m tall, with a trunk up to 1.2m wide and a crown of around 9m

  • Leaf fronds are dark green, can have yellowish tint and can grow to more than 3m long

  • Leaf fronds have sharp yellow spines up to 30cm long at their base, in older plants

  • Only female trees produce seeds, which ripen in summer, seen as orange-yellow sprays of berry-like fruit from around the base of the leaves

  • Trunks can be a metre or so across and are marked a bit like a pineapple skin with oval or diamond shaped scars where older leaves have dropped off

  • Many phoenix palms have been planted in coastal areas around Auckland as decorative trees, so it is not unusual to see large palms at European historical sites

Phoenix palm with clusters of seeds growing from base of leaf fronds (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Author Quartl)
Phoenix palm with clusters of seeds growing from base of leaf fronds (photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Author Quartl)

How can phoenix palm be controlled?


We’ve said before and we’ll say it again: Full PPE gear should be used, with extremely thick gloves, whenever working with phoenix palm material.


Small specimens can be pulled or dug out.

Phoenix palm seedling

Specimens unable to be pulled or dug, can be cut and pasted with a double strength glyphosate gel, such as Bamboo Buster™*.


Large specimens can be drilled with holes every 10cm around the trunk, at least 2.5cm deep, and each injected with 10ml undiluted glyphosate herbicide.


However, it is highly recommended that any trees over the seedling stage with pronounced spines are controlled by qualified professionals due to the risk of injury they pose.


*Always read the label before using any herbicide.


Handling phoenix palm material safely


Spikes can puncture the sides of work boots and even leather gloves. Correct PPE and equipment is necessary, including:

  • heavy protective clothing,

  • thick gloves,

  • protective shoes or boots,

  • eye protection.



How can you help?


There are several ways you can help:


Learn to recognise phoenix palms at different stages from seedling to adult.


If you find small ones that can be dug or pulled up easily, remove them wearing the correct PPE.


If you have it on your property and want to get rid of it get in touch with us.


Pest Free Kaipatiki is particularly keen on knowing where female phoenix palm (and bangalow palm) are present and may have financial support for their removal. Look for the berry-like fruit in the summer to identify female trees.


Report the locations of phoenix palms to Pest Free Kaipātiki, by email or using the EcoTrack app. It is particularly helpful to report smaller trees before they become massive ones.


If you notice neighbours planting them, please let them know in a friendly way, about the dangers and difficulties the community will face as they grow. You can even share this article with them or others. Most people are simply unaware of what they have planted.


Dispose of fallen fronds carefully and responsibly at a certified transfer station - people have been injured from the fallen fronds being dumped in reserves. You could be responsible for harming others if the fronds are not disposed of properly.



What can be planted instead?


Native alternatives that are actually beneficial to biodiversity could include:


Large trees

  • Puriri - provides homes and food for many native birds all year round, in the form of berries and flowers

  • Rewarewa - tall and narrow and has lovely red flowers that attract birds in spring

  • Tōtara - easily able to be pruned to a shape you want and attractive to birds for nesting sites and as a food source

  • Kahikatea - neat, tall, narrow tree which is light tolerant

Others

  • Nikau - our only native palm

  • Cabbage trees

  • Or a cluster of nikau and cabbage trees together

  • Pigeonwood

  • Titoki


Links

Pest plant info

News stories

Check out our other pages at pestfreekaipatiki.org.nz


Contact us


​Phone: 09-394 9190

Email: enquiries@pestfreekaipatiki.org.nz

Facebook: facebook.com/pestfreekaipatiki



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