Pritchardia thurstonii

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Pritchardia (pritch-AHR-dee-ah) thurstonii (thurs-tohn'-ee)
McBryde Gardens at the NTBG. Photo by Dr. P. Goltra
Scientific Classification
Genus: Pritchardia (pritch-AHR-dee-ah)
Species: thurstonii (thurs-tohn'-ee)
None set.
Native Continent
Habit: Solitary
Leaf type: Costapalmate
Survivability index
Common names
Polynesian Names: Piu (Tonga); Viu (Fiji), Lau Fan Palm

Habitat and Distribution

Fiji, Tonga. Moist to wet forest on rough, sharp, folded, pitted, fissured karst limestone,
Hawaii. Photo by Al in Kona
slopes, cliffs, large boulders and small islands, Fiji (Lau Group: Vanuabalavu, Vulaga, and Ogea Drikj) and Tonga (Eua), 0-200 m elev. (Hodel, D. 2007)/Palmweb.

This palm comes from the Lau Group in eastern Fiji. In habitat it grows in Limestone soils.


To 8 m tall, erect, rarely distinctly serpentine or saxophone-shaped; proximal margins of petiole with only a few fibers; leaf blade flat, divided 1/5-1/4, slightly waxy-glaucous, abaxial leaf blade surface with lepidia conspicuously arranged in distinct, parallel lines, segment tips stiff; inflorescences composed of 1 panicle, equaling or exceeding leaf blades in flower to greatly exceeding leaf blades in fruit, panicles branched to 2-3 orders, rachillae glabrous; fruits 7 mm in diam., globose. (Hodel, D. 2007)/Palmweb.

The lepidia on the abaxial leaf blade surface, conspicuously arranged in distinct, parallel lines, are diagnostic for Pritchardia thurstonii. It is rather widely cultivated in tropical gardens. On Vulaga and Ogea Driki in the Lau Group of Fiji, Pritchardia thurstonii is restricted, in rather spectacular fashion, to the tops of small, mushroom-shaped, karst limestone islets in their lagoons, nearly to the exclusion of all other woody vegetation (Fuller 1997, Fuller & Jones 1999, Watling 2005). On Eua island in Tonga, it is confined to the rock escarpment 200-300 m high on the southeast coast. There it occurs from the lip or crest near the top of the escarpment, sometimes with serpentine trunks, down to the sea coast. At the base of the escarpment, near and at the sea, is a jumble of gigantic, limestone boulders, some as much as 10-15 m in diameter, amongst and on top of which grow P. thurstonii. There is no barrier reef at this point, and waves crashing on the rocks at times envelope the surrounding area, including the palms, in a salt-laden haze. Because Mueller and Drude did not designate a holotype from the original material, Moore selected a lectotype at MEL and an isolectotype at Kas the type material for this species (Moore 1979). Several workers (Lister 1893, Burkill 1901, Beccari & Rock 1921, Watling 2005) have erroneously referred to Tongan material of Pritchardia thurstonii as P. pacifica. likewise, herbarium specimens of P. thurstonii from Tonga are frequently misidentified as P. pacifica. (Hodel, D. 2007)/Palmweb.


In culture the P. thurstonii likes full sun, and moist soil. Wind and salt tolerant. It's hardiness is USDA Zone 10b - at around 35°F or 1.7°c.

Comments and Curiosities

"This palm is hard for me to distinguish from Pritchardia pacifica, also from Fiji, as it has similarly large, flat, finely pleated stiff leaves of incredible beauty... supposedly used frequently as avenue plant in Hawaii (wouldn't know which are which, though). Also similarly tolerant of salt water. The primary differences, that have been pointed out to me, are 1) this palm's flowers extend far beyond the leaves and look like ornaments hanging down from the crowns... while flowers of P. pacifica are still nestled within the leaves... and 2) this palm is a bit smaller in leaf size, and a tad less 'perfect' in the size/shape of the leaf." (Geoff Stein)

External Links


Phonetic spelling of Latin names by edric.

Special thanks to Geoff Stein, (Palmbob) for his hundreds of photos.

Special thanks to, Dr. John Dransfield, Dr. Bill Baker & team, for their volumes of information and photos.

Glossary of Palm Terms; Based on the glossary in Dransfield, J., N.W. Uhl, C.B. Asmussen-Lange, W.J. Baker, M.M. Harley & C.E. Lewis. 2008. Genera Palmarum - Evolution and Classification of the Palms. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. All images copyright of the artists and photographers (see images for credits).

Hodel, D. 2007.

Many Special Thanks to Ed Vaile for his long hours of tireless editing and numerous contributions.

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