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Archontophoenix cunninghamiana (H. Wendl.) H. Wendl. & Drude 1875
pronounced: ar-kon-toh-FEE-niks kun-ing-ham-ee-AH-nuh
(Arecaceae – the palm family)
common name: Bangalow Palm
Archontophoenix comes from the Greek αρχος (archos), chief or commander, and φοινιξ (phoenix), the date palm, also the dark red colours from crimson to purple; cunninghamiana is for the botanist and explorer Allan Cunningham (1791–1839). This palm grows naturally in the rainforests of the central eastern coast of Australia, and its common name comes from the little town of Bangalow in the Byron Bay hinterland. The word Bangalow means ‘water-carrying basket’ in the local Aboriginal language.
This is a palm very similar to the Alexander Palm (Arcontophoenix alexandrae), both in size and appearance. Its leaves have paler stalks, and are bright green above and below, although there can be brown scales underneath. They are much heavier-looking than the Alexander Palm, and are more likely to be damaged by strong winds: they are more suited to sheltered areas.
The base of the petioles forms a greenish yellow crownshaft below which the leaves rarely droop. The round green fruits, about 12 mm in diameter, turn bright red at maturity. They are highly palatable to birds, and this assists the spread of the palm. There is often a noticeable bulge in the crownshaft before the flowers emerge, which gives the palm a ‘pregnant’ look.
These palms can be grown in full sun, provided that the water is kept up to them, or in the shade. They do like more water than most palms, with some even thriving in poorly-drained areas. In their native habitat, they can often been seen growing next to and even in creek beds. They are quite fast growers – in good conditions, up to a metre a year.
There is a down side to these beautiful palms: they have the ability to become noxious weeds when planted as ornamentals. The Bangalow Palm has already become an invasive species in southern Brazil, profiting from the local extinction of the native palm Euterpe edulis. In New Zealand there is concern that Archontophoenix cunninghamiana could invade native forests, since it has the same ecological requirements as the native nikau palm. In the USA, the palm is commonly cultivated in California from San Luis Obispo to the Mexican border, and also in coastal southern Florida. As Florida must be the invasive species capital of the World, natives beware!
The Orange Palm Dart Cephrenes augias lays single eggs on the underside of the fronds of this palm, and the resulting caterpillars feed nocturnally.
Photographs taken at Nelly Bay, 2009
Page last updated 16th July 2018