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Pritchardia pacifica Seem. & H. Wendl. 1862
pronounced: pritch-AR-dee-uh pa-SIFF-ick-uh
(Arecaceae – the palm family)
common name: Fiji Fan Palm
The genus was named for the Rev. W.T. Pritchard, a Church Missionary Society missionary in Tahiti. Bougainville, Cook and other explorers made Tahiti famous in France as La Nouvelle Cythère†, and reports of the island and its neighbours aroused such interest also in London that the London Missionary Society was formed in 1794-95 for the express purpose of converting its inhabitants to (Protestant) Christianity. The Duff was dispatched in 1796 with some 60 missionaries and teachers of trades and crafts to that end. Little progress was made by the missionaries until Pomaré II, King of Tahiti, accepted Protestantism in 1815. Under him and his successors the London Missionary Society gained great influence in the island government. In 1836 two French Roman Catholic priests came to the island from the Gambian Islands, where Catholicism had gained a foothold. They were twice expelled by Queen Pomaré IV, with the support and approbation of the English missionaries, and took their cause to Paris. In 1838 a French naval expedition exacted from the Queen an indemnity and guarantees for the future for French residents in the island. In 1842 Queen Pomaré signed a convention with Admiral Dupetit-Thouars, establishing a French Protectorate in Tahiti.
The missionary Pritchard‡ then became the centre of an international incident. An uprising of the natives against the protectorate resulted in a punitive expedition by the French admiral, the flight of Queen Pomaré, and the forcible expulsion from the island of Pritchard, whom the admiral held responsible for the revolt. This act was disavowed by the French Government and an indemnity paid to Great Britain based upon the claim that Pritchard, at the time of his expulsion, had been appointed British consul.
The specific pacifica is botanical Latin, ‘of the Pacific Ocean’.
Pritchardia is a genus of about 27 species of fan palms found on Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Tuamotus and Hawaii. They vary in height from 6 to 40 m; the leaves are fan-shaped and the trunk columnar, naked, smooth or fibrous, longitudinally grooved, and obscurely ringed by leaf scars. The flowers and subsequent fruits are borne in a terminal cluster with simple or compound branches of an inflorescence that in some species is longer than the leaves.
Pritchardia pacifica originates from Tonga and the 323 islands of Fiji, and is now widely introduced to most tropical parts of the world. It is a striking solitary palm, 7–10 m tall, with a trunk of up to 30 cm in diameter. It likes a sunny but well-drained position, but, even then, is only slow- to moderate-growing. It is well suited to coastal areas, and is also often grown as a house plant.
It has a straight, smooth trunk with some fibre patterning at the base. It has numerous palmate leaves that are very large, and nearly as wide (c.120 cm) as they are long (c.150 cm), undivided, with many pleats. The shallowly split leaves are a rich lime green in colour, with a yellowish midrib. The brownish flowers are fragrant. The spherical fruit is a little over 1 cm in diameter, turning red then black at maturity. The seed is about 7 mm in diameter.
† The New Kythira. Kythira is one of the beautiful Ionian islands in the Mediterranean
‡ Pritchard was the author of Polynesian Reminiscences; Or, Life in the South Pacific Islands (Chapman and Hall, London, 1866)
Photographs taken in Arcadia 2012
Page last updated 29th January 2017