Phoenix palm
Poison palm
Arecaceae - Phoenix canariensis

What does it look like?

The phoenix palm is a stocky palm, with a trunk up to 18m tall and 1.2m in diameter.  The trunk is covered with leaf scars, giving it a diamond-shaped pattern.  The large leaves form a spreading crown at the top of the trunk and there are sharp, shiny spines (5-8cm long) on the leaf stalks.  During October and November, branched clusters of creamy-yellow to white flowers occur on a long stem amongst the leaves.  The cylinder-shaped berries  are 1-5cm long, fleshy, date-like and orange-yellow to dark purple in summer.

The preferred habitats of phoenix palm include coastal cliffs, forest, sand dunes, saline wetlands (mangroves and saltmarshes), urban areas and roadsides.  It is capable of invading native bush and wild populations of Phoenix palm are found in Northland, Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty.

Why is it a problem?

Phoenix palm tolerates cold, warmth, drought, floods, shade, sun, and salt spray as well as mountain climate.  It can be found growing on a wide variety of usually fertile soils. Phoenix palm has an extensive root system, which allows it to explore the surrounding earth to find subterranean water even at long distances.  It is  also resistant to temporary waterlogging.  Seedlings are frost-sensitive but mature trees can withstand light frosts.  The phoenix palm can exclude other plant species due to its large size and the spines which are unpalatable to grazing animals.  It is native to the Canary Islands and is naturalised and/or invasive on the Spanish peninsular, Italy, Australia, Bermuda and parts of the United States (Florida, Arizona, Southern Nevada, California and Alabama).

The phoenix palm is dioecious, which means that there are separate male plants and female plants.  Both plants produces flowers but it is only the female plants that produce fruits and seeds.  They begin to fruit at 5-10 years old, are very long-lived and produce abundant seed.

Control Methods

Physical control

  • Dig out seedlings and small plants (all year round): dispose of material at a refuse transfer station or dry out and then compost.
  • Cut large trees down. Once the crown is removed the plant will die.

Herbicide control

  • Drill and inject (all year round): drill holes at least 2.5 cm deep every 20 cm around trunk, near the ground, and inject each with 10 ml glyphosate (360g/l undiluted).
  • Spray (spring-summer): spray new growth with 200ml glyphosate + penetrant per 10L water.

CAUTION: When using any herbicide or pesticide, PLEASE READ THE LABEL THOROUGHLY to ensure that all instructions and safety requirements are followed. 

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