Kentia Palm Nursery
The first tiny settlement on Lord Howe Island supported itself by supplying the ships of the whaling industry which flourished in the Pacific Ocean throughout the 19th century.
As whaling declined, however, a new source of income was desperately needed. At first, the islanders attempted to sell their produce, but it was the humble native palm (Howea forsteriana) they used to thatch their houses which eventually saved them.
Still called the thatch palm by many islanders, it was to become the most popular decorative palm in the world.
The Kentia palm is indisputably beautiful and elegant, and complements the interior of many a fine building. It is also remarkably hardy and resilient and is particularly suited to indoor conditions.
The mild, balmy and unique climate, of Lord Howe Island has evolved a palm which can tolerate low light, a dry atmosphere and which requires less maintenance than other indoor plants.
At first, and until the early 1980’s, it was only the seeds of the Kentia Palm which were exported. Now, however, only small trees and shot seedlings of the highest quality, which have been carefully nurtured in the nursery on Lord Howe Island can be sold.
The Nursery received Certification in 1997 of its Quality Management System, complying with the requirements of Australian Standard AS/NZS 150 9002 for the production and cultivation of premium palm seedlings, germinated from palms indigenous to Lord Howe Island.There are many reasons for this obsession with quality control; most importantly, the reputation of the Kentia Palm is precious to the islanders. Kentia Palms grown elsewhere have exhibited inconsistencies of quality and it was this the islanders wanted to stop. So ended the export of seeds.
Like everything else on Lord Howe Island, the way the Kentia Palm business is run is unique. It is managed by dedicated and experienced staff employed by the Lord Howe Island Board.
The Board consists of three islanders and two representatives of the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Therefore the Palm industry of Lord Howe Island operates within the auspices of the New South Wales State Government, and so the very highest standards of quality and Supply can be vigorously maintained. It also means that all the money earned from the sale of palms is put back into preserving the remarkable ecosystem which nurtures them.
All the seeds which are planted and grown in the Lord Howe Island Board palm nursery are gathered from the natural forest, or from plantations established as part of a program to return cleared areas to their natural state.
This means that every Kentia Palm exported from Lord Howe Island is a first generation descendant of the mother stock which have been growing for centuries in their natural environment. The horticultural equivalent, if you like, of real pearls versus cultured pearls.
Only islanders experienced, in the collection of seeds are permitted to harvest them from mature Kentia Palms. And, as this is a skill passed down from one generation to the next, most collectors are descendants of the original settlers who have performed this task for over a century.
The combined experience of the islanders and the Board guarantees that only mature viable seed is harvested and that the resulting seedling are always of the highest quality and vigour.
Once the seed has been collected and accepted, it is germinated in the nursery in sterile, soil-less media. The whole growing unit is then sealed to the atmosphere to thoroughly protect it from any disease or pest during germination.
These lengths may seem extreme, especially when you consider Lord Howe Island's very isolation already means it is free from most known palm pests and pathogens, and because the Board also bans the importation of any other species of palm or palm product onto the Island.
However, experience has shown that these precautions have resulted in a strong, vigorous growing plant with established roots and stems, completely free of pests or disease.
Once the palms have been germinated and have passed the Board's final set of stringent quality control standards they are picked, washed (bare-rooted), sanitised and certified. Then they are packed in sealed, insulated containers ready for export.
Within one day of this process, the palms will be flying to nurseries all over the world. And, thanks to the speed of modern transport, Lord Howe Island Kentia Palm seedlings are available for replanting within a week of being picked.
You will find Kentia Palms both indoors and out. They are popular with both indoor plant hire companies and landscape gardeners; with florists, interior decorators and set designers. They are commonly found at the best addresses, and in the best hotels and motels throughout the world.
Kentia was the original name given to four species of palms growing on Lord Howe Island. The thatch palm (Howea forsteriana) is the one currently exported.
However there are plans to export the curly palm (Howea belmoreana) which, as the name implies, features an intricate palm leaf rather than the familiar, elegant arch of the forsteriana.
The other two species are only considered collector's items for palm enthusiasts.