One of the main reasons I started my blog was to introduce new plants to people and hopefully give them a few more brushes from which to paint their landscape. Back in the spring of 2007 I was lucky enough to purchase my first Meryta balansae. At the time no one was known to be growing this plant outside in California, so when Leon at XOTX Nursery had them for sale I grabbed some. They were not cheap but my aversion to spending a lot of money on a plant lessens each time the seller uses the term “rare.”
Meryta balansae is in the Araliaceae family and is native to rainforests on the island of New Caledonia. At the time little was known about the plant aside from a few pictures online or some information from a French website. I grew mine for a year in my greenhouse and planted one out under the canopy of a Canary Palm. After one successful year in the ground I decided to plant my other two. Two years later my largest produced its first flower. It was a male. The following spring the second of the three flowered and it too was a male. Luck would have it my third plant flowered in December of 2010 and it was a female. With one of the male plants flowering I was able to pollinate the female flower and a few months later I would have thousands of seed available. After which I made these plants available online, and with buyers from Florida, Arizona, and all over California, about 100 plants have been dispersed (not to mention thousands of seed sent to Rare Palm Seeds). So I think it’s fair to say this plant will become much more readily available in the coming years.
Like most plants from New Caledonia, Meryta balansae is not a fast growing plant. It likes to grow as an unbranched plant until it begins to flower, at which stage it will divide—usually into two growing points. If the growing point is damaged on small plants, they will branch from below and in some cases grow considerably, to the point you will need to cut out some growth. Meryta balansae likes good-draining soil with a lot of organic matter. It also likes a lot of water and would prefer to start out in shade. It will grow into and handle sun once well rooted in. The leaves on the plant are the real selling point for me. The ornamental leaves are very large for the size of the trunk and dark green when grown in shade. The largest leaf I recorded on one of my plants was measured at 5’6″ long and 16″ wide.