NZ Palms, Cycads and Subtropical Plants

Landscaping with South Pacific Palms and Plants in New Zealand.

What could be more symbolic of the South Pacific than coconut palms?  We’ve recommendations on how to landscape your own South Pacific garden in New Zealand.

South Pacific gardens are rich in colour; from tropical Hibiscus to Hawaiian Ti Plants. They’re also a wonderful mix of palms, ferns, gingers, bananas, taros and other dazzling hot plants.


We’ve made the important distinction between ‘South Pacific’ and ‘Tropical’ to reflect the uniqueness of the South Pacific style of landscaping. Here we’ve focused on a brighter, hotter creation with an emphasis on South Pacific palms and plants and a lack of formality.

The Norfolk Island Nikau, Rhopalostylis baueri, which is a larger, stronger and better landscaping palm than the native Nikau.

The Umbrella Palm, Hedyscepe canterburyana, which is a beautiful and tough cousin of the Kentia and also originates from Lord Howe Island.

The Flamethrower Palm, Chambeyronia macrocarpa, a truly gorgeous palm from New Caledonia which sends out bright red new leaves.

Ideally one would love to recommend beginning with Coconut Palms. But a more realistic option would be clumps of Kentia Palms, Howea forsteriana, which make a fine substitute. Use these liberally. You’re not looking for a specimen plant but a solid planting of a dozen or more in an average garden. When they begin to mature you’ll thank us!


Besides Kentia Palms there are a number of other South Pacific palms that capture the look of this type of garden. Three that can’t be overlooked (albeit a couple are difficult to obtain) are:

Aged Kentia palms are a great substitute for the coconut palm.
The Norfolk Island Nikau evokes the feel of the milder Pacific Islands.
The hot, fiery Flamethrower palm is native to New Caledonia and will add a flash of colour with each new leaf.

Next consider tree ferns. It’s not always appreciated that the giant Black Tree Fern, Cyathea medullaris, can also be found in the South Pacific. This species is without doubt the most tropical looking of the native tree ferns and is perfectly suited to the South Pacific garden. Again, plant several in loose clumps rather than a solitary plant.


When it comes to bushes begin with nothing less than the Hibiscus. Both the Fijian and Hawaiian varieties grow well in northern New Zealand and are utterly synonymous with the South Pacific. Also worthy of inclusion is Bougainvillea with its masses of bright flowers. Another bush that’s classically South Pacific is Metrosideros ‘Tahiti’, a miniature version of the ubiquitous coastal favourite in northern New Zealand, Metrosideros excelsa (the Pohutukawa or New Zealand Christmas Tree).

The gorgeous Loulu palm originates from the Pacific Islands and is a particularly elegant fan palm.
The Black Tree fern is reminiscent of the giant ferns one encounters in the Pacific.  In fact it is native to a number of islands throughout the southwest Pacific.

Another exotic cousin of a New Zealand native is Cordyline fruticosa, the Hawaiian Ti plant, an infinitely more colourful and tropical version of the native Cabbage Tree. With wide leaves and a range of colours this is an essential in any South Pacific garden in warmer parts of New Zealand.

The brilliant reds, purples and oranges of the bougainvillea vine are practically compulsory when landscaping a South Pacific garden.
A must for any South Pacific landscape.  Is there a flower more evocative of the Pacific than the colourful hibiscus?
A compact version of the Pohutukawa, Metrosideros ‘Tahiti’ will add summer colour to a South Pacific garden.
Colocasias (including the naturalised Taro) have been grown throughout the South Pacific for centuries.
The Ti plant comes in a range of colours and is in keeping with the use of Pacific plants.

Now let’s turn to the classic tropical plants; bananas, gingers and cannas. With a range of sizes, colours and degrees of hardiness these are a requirement of all South Pacific gardens. Don’t forget large Colocasias and Alocasias either. These are commonly grown throughout the South Pacific (such as Colocasia esculenta, the humble Taro).

© NZ Palms, Cycads and Subtropical Plants 2019

Other palms from nearby include the King Palm, Archontophoenix alexandrae, and the Loulu Palm family, Pritchardia. Pritchardia are well worth considering as they’re a particularly attractive fan palm popular throughout the Pacific. The two most commonly grown species are very tropical in their requirements but many of the Hawaiian species succeed in northern New Zealand. Whilst not from the South Pacific some species of cycad such as the huge Cycas thouarsii from Madagascar would fit right in.