© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2020

Pretty palm or devilish weed?

Georgie Hanafin
Phoenix Palm
Wanted. Considered dangerous. Approach with caution, arborists recommend.  Wikipedia

Kiwis with a green thumb are being warned to take care with Phoenix Palms, which are causing injuries up and down the country.

When Janice Marriott pictured ringing in 2019, under no circumstances did she think she'd be watching the fireworks, flat on her back, at Auckland's Middlemore Hospital after emergency hand surgery. 

The keen gardener had been picking zucchini from her vege patch on December 30, 2018, when she noticed the fronds of her neighbour's Phoenix palm peeking over the fence.

Swiping them back over the fence she felt a sting. Brushing it off as a wasp sting, she continued on with her evening. 

Four hours later, her finger was the size of a small banana, but she couldn't see any wounds, so she went to bed. 

"By morning the pain was so bad I wasn’t thinking straight," she said. 

hand bandage
Janice Marriott spent a week in traction after a run-in with her neighbour's Phoenix palm. Janice Marriott (Supplied)

Her niece demanded Marriott get a taxi to Auckland Hospital, where to her surprise, she was rushed to Middlemore Hospital to see a hand surgeon. She had surgery to remove any trace of the frond and to treat infection. 

Marriott spend a week in hospital on IV antibiotics and having her wound flushed regularly.  

She said the effects of the injury from the palm frond were lasting.

"I'm unable to make a fist with my hand," she said.

"I've lost strength in that hand and can't bend my finger."

hand stitches v2
Janice Marriott's hand after being treated for infection from a Phoenix Palm. Janice Marriott (Supplied)

ACC media advisor Peter Thornton said injuries from Phoenix Palm have resulted in 322 ACC claims this year, costing the tax payer over $69,000. 

Auckland City has officially labelled the plant a pest, meaning it can no longer be legally sold, moved, or planted. Other cities are looking to follow suit. 

The danger comes when the palm's spikes die back from the frond. A fungus grows on the tip, which causes infection. 

The palms are found all over New Zealand, and are identifiable by their thick, stocky trunks and their unexpectedly vicious fronds. The hardened thorns found at the frond base are extremely sharp and are toxic.

If you're working with these palms, use thick gloves, close-toed shoes, safety glasses, and someone else's chainsaw as not only are they toxic, the sap is corrosive.