Victorian Era.

Once introduced into Europe, the Kentia Palm was immediately recognized as remarkable for its dramatic appearance and ability to readily flourish indoors. Strong survival rates meant greater numbers of seeds could be imported successfully. However, the Kentias were still very expensive to purchase and therefore exclusive.

The prohibitive cost factor resulted in Kentia Palms becoming famous house plants among the nobility and aristocracy of Europe. Royal residences and stately homes had the high ceilings where Kentias could be displayed in all their glory. The owners also had the budgets for securing them. Kentias could be found by the late 1800’s in parlors, ballrooms, reception areas and conservatories. Since Kentias lived in splendor for many years they were cost effective. Growers found them a popular, worthwhile and a well valued investments. They believed that Kentias defined the good fashion sense and wealth of the plants’ owners. Kentia Palms were admired throughout Europe’s aristocratic, upper class and well-to-do middle class families.

(Country Life Picture Library.)

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Kentia Palm seed demand in the early 20th century.

Early in the 20th century the demand for Kentia Palm seed was growing at a fast pace. Buyers for the seed were from Australia, England, France, Belgium and North America. The Board of Control on Lord Howe were shipping seed quantities which exceeded many millions of Kentia Palm seed annually.
Then a couple of factors damaged the palm seed industry just as the demand for seed was peaking. The first of these was the outbreak of World War 1 which disrupted the European market. The second factor was the grounding of the Burns Philp ship “Makambo” off Ned’s Beach in 1918, which released a rat plague on the Island. As a consequence, palm seed harvests started to decline considerably.
Rats love Kentia Palm seed. They nibble though the seed to get to the “embryo”. Mature Kentia Palm trees normally have three years of seed development on them. The mature seed hangs down the lowest, the next years crop is above that, and then the third years crop is appearing out of the top of the tree. The rats are able to chew all the first and second year seed so that in fact two years of picking has been eliminated. Viable and mature seed from that tree is three years away if the rats don’t get to that once the flowers turn to seed.
In order to combat the rats a bounty of 1d per rat tail was introduced in 1920. All islanders were expected to give one day per fortnight hunting rats with dogs, traps and light shotguns. In 1928, owls were introduced to try and reduce the rat population, but without great effect. More effective control had to wait until after the second World War when poison baits were introduced.
To illustrate how rats can decimate a palm seed industry, here are some seed export figures from Lord Howe Island from 1919 through to 1927.
1919              20,223,000
1920              16,362,000
1921              11,857,500
1922               7,488,000
1923               4,792,500
1924               6,003,000
1925               3,946,500
1926               4,297,500
1927              13,666,500
From those figures it does show  that the hunting by the islanders did pay off, as export figures for 1927 had begun to show a significant increase.

First photo shows the third years crop forming and the rats ignore these small flowering seed as embryos haven’t yet developed. Second photo shows seed after two years on the tree, and the third photo shows the third year’s crop ready for picking.

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Kentia Palm Book

If you are a plant enthusiast then you would enjoy reading my book about the history of the majestic Kentia Palm.

Did you know that the Kentia Palm was discovered on beautiful Lord Howe Island in the 1800’s?

That it became the most popular sought after indoor plant in the Victorian Era?

That it was Queen Victoria’s favorite palm?

That it has ruled the foliage plant world for the last 15o years because of it’s easy care and maintenance record?

All these questions, and many more are answered in my book called “Seed to Elegance”. There are abundant illustrations in the book depicting the Kentia’s life cycle, the methods used to produce and distribute the Kentias to customers, and how a beautiful Kentia Palm can enhance the décor of any residence or business.

Copies of the book can be purchased for $15.00 by emailing me at:

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A Norfolk Islander’s Vision.

It is hard to imagine that within a 100 years of a small quantity of Kentia seed arriving on Norfolk Island that Norfolk would become the world’s largest exporter of Kentia Palm seed. That is amazing for a little island, five miles long and three miles wide, located almost 1,100 miles off the east coast of Australia.
It took the vision of one Norfolk Islander, and a lot of hard work to see that dream come true.
The original Kentia seeds that  T.B. Wilson brought to Norfolk Island were germinated and planted at various locations around the Island. Each year more trees were planted from seedling germination. Most trees were grown in small numbers around island homes.
During World War Two a Norfolk Islander named Ivens “Pullis” Nobbs, while serving with the Australian Armed Forces in North Africa, and on R&R leave, saw Kentia Palms displayed as decorative plants in various luxurious locations. “Pullis” was aware that his father had planted twelve  trees on the family’s property from the original seed T.B. Wilson had brought to Norfolk Island. He believed that the seed harvested from those, and other Kentia trees on Norfolk Island, and sold to European Kentia seed buyers, could have been the finished product he saw in North Africa. A vision for his own Kentia Palm plantation on Norfolk Island was born!
When Ivens  returned from war service he began to clear the family land and plant out Kentias in quantity. There were some plants available from the early seed that had been brought from Lord Howe Island, but Ivens needed more. He decided to make a trip to Lord Howe Island.  As T.B. Wilson had done in the previous century he traded Norfolk Island Pine seed for Kentia Palm seed.
( This is a great picture of Ivens in his elder years )

Pullis” cleared his land using hard manual labor. He germinated his Kentia seed that he got from Lord Howe Island in a wet creek bed in a valley on his property. All this he did primarily in his spare time.
Many of the people on the Island said that “Pullis” was mad to plant palms, firstly because one couldn’t eat the seed, ( back then Norfolk Islanders still lived a mainly subsistence lifestyle ) and secondly because of the length of time required to get a return on the investment. It took many long years of hard physical work planting and maintaining the palm groves. However, the trees gradually grew and developed seed. “Pullis” did not live to see the mature plantation when it reached its full potential, but he enjoyed the vision in his mind’s eye for many years.
Today “Pullis” Valley is the largest Kentia Palm plantation on Norfolk Island. It is the realization of the dream “Pullis” had imagined, coupled with unceasing hard work over four generations. Ivens “Pullis” Nobbs is recognized as the pioneer of the Kentia Palm industry on Norfolk Island. He was instrumental in its expansion through his encouragement of other Islanders and residents to also grow and cultivate Kentia Palms.

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