Photo by Melody

PlantFiles: Shaving Brush Palm, Nikau Palm
Rhopalostylis sapida

Family: Arecaceae (ar-ek-AY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Rhopalostylis (rope-a-lo-STY-lis) (Info)
Species: sapida (sap-EE-duh) (Info)

4 members have or want this plant for trade.

Tropicals and Tender Perennials

Unknown - Tell us

10-12 ft. (3-3.6 m)

USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)
USDA Zone 10a: to -1.1 C (30 F)
USDA Zone 10b: to 1.7 C (35 F)
USDA Zone 11: above 4.5 C (40 F)

Sun Exposure:
Full Sun
Sun to Partial Shade
Light Shade
Partial to Full Shade


Bloom Color:

Bloom Time:
Late Summer/Early Fall
Mid Fall

Grown for foliage

Other details:
Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater
Requires consistently moist soil; do not let dry out between waterings

Soil pH requirements:
5.6 to 6.0 (acidic)
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:
From seed; sow indoors before last frost
From seed; direct sow after last frost

Seed Collecting:
Remove fleshy coating on seeds before storing
Unblemished fruit must be significantly overripe before harvesting seed; clean and dry seeds
Properly cleaned, seed can be successfully stored

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There are a total of 52 photos.
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4 positives
1 neutral
No negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

Positive baiissatva On Jul 24, 2009, baiissatva from Dunedin
New Zealand wrote:

Zone 9b Coastal Otago NZ
This is a New Zealand native palm with a couple of difficult to differentiate sub species, the main being the NZ mainland variety with the others I know of being a Banks Peninsula form and one from Norfolk and Kermadec Island(s) called R bauerii, which is reputed to be a lot faster growing, though perhaps not as cold hardy as the NZ nikau.
Here on the South Island their home is really the West Coast province, on the other side of the alps from our location, where the wet temperate rainforest is their native habitat and they thrive on the incredibly high rainfall and lack of hardcore frosting.
Though palm freaks might not like to hear this, these palms are at their best when surrounded, if not inundated by, other evergreen species and grow faster and stronger with this shelter. The anaemic looking unfortunates you see struggling in specimen plantings are pining for company. When young they will tolerate, and actually seem to prefer, the almost complete shade of an understorey situation, which they will outgrow in their own good time. They're forest palms, and if you could only see them in all their overcrowded jostling glory you would drool from both corners of the mouth, and give up planting them in the middle of friendless nowhere.
Its true theyre not keen on being moved, but this is mainly because irresponsible pirates like to hack them out of the bush and break their taproots, resulting in death. Plants taken from a good pot dont mind being planted out at all, and can be successfully shifted if not too established.
There is a large specimen growing happily amongst other shrubs higher up on our exposed peninsula suburb, taking good frosts, hot dry summers and soggy winters. Note that it's surrounded by other plants and would certainly have perished if this was not the case.
Im growing three beneath a canopy of Cyathea tree ferns, and they're very happy, if small.
The seeds are apparently edible, but err... you go first :-)
Ive posted two pics, taken across the road from each other near Punakaiki on the West Coast of the Sth Island. Here the native old growth podocarp and broadleaf forest comes right down to the beach, where it hasn't been bulldozed by farmers. The two enormous ancients in the first pic are far happier and healthier than the slowly declining grove across the road that has been denuded of its original forest. Note the only seedlings visible in this second pic are coming up in the second growth shelter in the background.

Positive JamesPark On Feb 19, 2009, JamesPark from Auckland
New Zealand (Zone 9a) wrote:

One of the most fantastic palms, with large, stiff fronds. I planted one in autumn and since then it has been attacked by the coldest temperature in 21 years (-4.9 C / 23.2F). All of the fronds have gone brown and crispy, and now the growth bud has begun to shrivel. It's not looking good!

Neutral koolkatken On May 25, 2005, koolkatken from Auckland
New Zealand wrote:

Native palm here in NZ- in most natural bush around the country. Seems to be 2 main types- one has a beautiful thicker trunk, the other looks rugged and not as attractive. Far too slow growing for my taste- many faster palms available, but it's vogue to plant native these days.

Is not recommended to transplant a mature tree- one of the worst palms for transplants. Tried 2 large (18-20 ft) trees- both died. So sad.

Positive Dave_in_Devon On Apr 17, 2004, Dave_in_Devon from Torquay
United Kingdom (Zone 9b) wrote:

So far, young plants appear to be perfectly happy here in coastal south-west England and need no protection. Our temperature range from minus 2C to 34C appears to suit the species well and the only problem is its vulnerability to scale.

Update 06/06/2008 - plants now 9 years old

These palms continue to thrive albeit very slowly. As the seedlings become semi-mature, the base of thhe plant 'shifts' sideways leaving a visible 'rhizome' several inches long. The base is pulled down into the soil and only when this happens does basal thickening and trunk formation start to develop. My 'seedlings' have withstood our worst, one-in-twenty-year winters (2006/07) when temps fell to near minus 4C for short periods on 2 occasions. No damage was sustained despite several week-long periods of severely biting winds and temps in the 0C - 5C range.

They seem to do better in full sun now they are acclimatised and are becoming very stout, sturdy plants. Rhopalostylis are reputed to dislike being moved when mature and because I've not yet decided upon final planting sites, mine are still being pot-grown (although they are kept outside throughout the year). This is a palm for the very patient because in our climate at least, it needs up to 10 years from seed before significant basal thickening, with the accompanying large, typically 'shuttlecock'-style frond arrangement starts to take place. I have no doubt that growth rates would be faster if planted out although I suspect they would still have needed 7 years from seed to reach this stage.

Positive palmbob On Jul 29, 2003, palmbob from Acton, CA (Zone 8b) wrote:

There are two, maybe three species of this genus, all from the islands of New Zealand and nearby. As a group they are referred to as the shaving brush palms since their sillohuete resembles one. They are relatively fastidious palms preferring a mediterranean climate to one more tropical or cold... a pretty narrow temperature range. But lucky for us in So Cal most areas are perfect for growing this species. It doesn't like it hot or cold.

These palms have a classic feather palm shape with a humongous bulbous crownshaft (more so on this species than the other) of bright, lime green. The leaves are stiff and erect with very closely spaced leaflets. This species differs from R baueri in that the leaflets start at the very begining of the leaf- no petiole basically. The trunk is very closely ringed and ornamental. It is a moderately slow growing palm, taking up to 10 years or more to get a trunk going from seedling. But once it forms a trunk they pick up speed a bit. Their fruit is bright red and a striking contrast to the lime green crownshaft just above where the fruit stalk erupts. These are simple gorgeous palms!


This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Chowchilla, California
Garden Grove, California
Huntington Beach, California
Oceanside, California
Pismo Beach, California
Reseda, California
San Diego, California
San Francisco, California
Santa Barbara, California
Thousand Oaks, California
Upland, California
Ventura, California
Palm Bay, Florida

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