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The Journey of the Kentia Palm

Jul 25, 2014

Aloha from the Big Island of Hawaii!

Kentia Palm.  Howea forsteriana.  My favorite palm tree.  It’s native to Lord Howe Island – a small island off the east coast of Australia.  It is widely used throughout the world as a specimen indoor plant; in fact, we use them extensively at PLANTZ for their lasting, elegant looks.  But, how do they get to Tampa, and anywhere else in the world?

Kentias are grown in Florida – mostly in Homestead, in typical Florida soil.  The best are grown in Hawaii, where the climate and soils create a perfect environment for the palm to grow tall and develop a strong root system.  I am here at the MIDPAC Horticulture Conference and Expo on the Big Island of Hawaii for a better understanding of Hawaiian-grown Kentia, and other Hawaiian foliage plants.

Kentia PalmHere, I met Lance Carr, who owns Mountain Range Nursery in Dapto, Australia.  Apparently, it all begins at his place.  He’s the world’s largest supplier of Kentia seedlings.  He collects the Kentia seed, germinates them, and ships them to growers around the globe who grow them in to finished, marketable palms.  Lance says it takes 18 to 24 months to germinate the seeds and ship them.  There are a number of cultural procedures he uses to germinate the seed and he gets, at best, a 50% success rate.

One of Lance’s biggest customers is Dawn Kitagawa of Kohala Nursery in Kapaau, Hawaii.  We visited Dawn’s family-run nursery yesterday where her story goes back 40 years when her father, Tamo Kitagawa, started growing Kentia and Rhapis palms.  They now have 87 acres under production on the west side of the Big Island of Hawaii and the largest supplier of Kentia and Rhapis to North America.  Lance’s Kentia seedlings arrive bare-root, by FedEx.  Dawn’s team plants them in a mixture of Hawaiian volcanic cinder and peat moss and the plants are stepped up (re-potted in progressively larger grow pots) until they’re ready for market.  Both the Kentia and Rhapis are relatively slow growers, requiring roughly one year of production for every foot  of plant height.  The operation at Kohala is impressive, moving these beautiful plants from seedlings to some that are 15’ tall.  Once they’re ready for market, they are loaded in 24 and 40’ temperature-controled shipping containers for the 10-day voyage to the mainland – usually to Long Beach, California.  To get to use in Florida, they are trucked across the country, usually taking about 5 more days.

So, what’s the big deal and why all the trouble to start a plant in Australia, grow it in Hawaii, and ship it to Florida, where we have our own fantastic array of foliage?  Well, it’s simply because Hawaiian palms outlast both Florida- and California-grown palms in interior landscapes, and look better too.  The combination of the temperate climate and the volcanic growing medium just produces a better plant, making it worth the effort and the trip.

At PLANTZ, we strive to deliver the best plants available for our customers to enjoy – even if it means at 10,000 mile trip that starts in Australia.


Steve Stanford

Kentia Palm Journey
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