Canterbury Endemic: Akaroa Daisy, Celmisia mackaui


Species Profile: Lancewood

Lancewood, Pseudopanax crassifolius

This photo is licensed Some rights reserved, Mike Hudson

More Photos:
Flickr | Google

Pseudopanax crassifolius

Written by Micheal Hudson (Lincoln University)

July 2005

Edited by Mark Parker, Lincoln University, January 2006



Species Description

An important feature of the Lancewood (Pseudopanax crassifolius) is that it has several distinctive phases throughout its life cycle (heteroblastic). The most obvious being the significant morphological changes from the juvenile to the adult forms as shown in Figure 1 and Figure 2 (Gould, 1972; Salmon, 1963). These changes are so complete that both forms were originally given separate names by Dr Solander on Captain Cooks early voyage (Xerophylla longifloria for the juvenile and Aralia crassifolia for the adult), then later changed to another two different names by Sir Joseph Hooker in 1865 (Panax longissium for the juvenile and Panax crassifolium for the adult) (Kirk, 1889).

In the juvenile form the Lancewood has a slender single main stem reaching 4.5 - 6 metres in height with long juvenile leaves deflecting downward (Salmon, 1980). This is contrasted with the adult form that can reach 15 meters in height and is characterised by a round, thick leaved head atop a straight tall trunk of up to 500mm in diameter (Allan, 1961; Gould, 1972). Grey bark and ridges spiral up the length of the trunk (Moore et al., 1978) as illustrated in Figure 3.


This photo is licensed Some rights reserved, Mike Hudson

Figures 1–3. Adult and juvenile forms of Pseudopanax crassifolius. (Click on an image for the full caption.)

After a long juvenile period of 15 to 20 years the apex starts to branch and the stem starts to thicken (Moore et al. 1978). The juvenile leaves are long, narrow and thick reaching up to a metre in length and 12 – 20mm in width (Gould, 1972; Moore et al., 1978) (see Figure 2). Primarily a very dark green colour with a purple underside, the leaves have a pronounced yellow-orange midrib occupying almost a third of the leaf area (Gould, 1972). Distinctive teeth are distributed along the margins of the tough and coriaceous leaves as shown in Figure 4. As the Lancewood matures and starts to branch the leaves also begin to change, becoming progressively more erect and even upward pointing. Accompanying changes in shape and size result in the final adult leaf shape that is shorter and wider (75 – 200mm and 16 to 40mm respectively) (Metcalf, 1972) with a narrow oblanceolate shape (lance-shaped but broadest beyond the middle and tapering toward the petiole) (Gould, 1992) as shown in Figure 5. Adult leaves can occur unifoliate, three-foliate or five-foliate (Salmon, 1980). The teeth diminish and become less fierce, resulting in a serrated or smooth leaf margin.


This photo is licensed Some rights reserved, Mike Hudson

Figures 4–6. Leaves of P. crassifolius (Fig. 4–5) and P. ferox (Fig. 6).

Similar species and how to distinguish them

The particular heteroblastic nature of the P. crassifolius is unique in New Zealand but is also found in P. ferox (Metcalf, 1972; Moore, 1978; Salmon, 1980). These two species have very similar life cycles. P. ferox is most easily distinguished in the juvenile form where, in comparison, the juvenile leaf is noticeably more patterned and has fiercer teeth on a shorter (up to 500mm long) and slightly broader leaf fig.6. The deeper green adult leaf form is shorter and slightly narrower than the P. crassifolius counterpart (Metcalf, 1972). A large shrub, as opposed to a tree, the P. ferox is generally a shorter specimen reaching a maximum height of about 6 metres (Salmon, 1963). This is compared to the 15 metres of the P. crassifolius adult. The reproductive process occurs at a different time of year with flowering in November and December and much larger fruits ripening by April (Salmon, 1963).

Geographic distribution

Full natural and naturalised range

The Genera Pseudopanax is found in South America, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Tasmania and China with 15 endemic species found in New Zealand alone. P. crassifolius is one of these 15 endemic species found naturally in New Zealand (Salmon, 1980). Although not naturalised in any other country, P. crassifolius has previously been used as a botanical garden specimen in several countries, including Kew Gardens in Britain (Kirk, 1889), and is currently mentioned on the website list from the National Botanic Garden of Belgium.

New Zealand natural and naturalised range:

Within New Zealand the extensive range of P. crassifolius is spread over North, South and Stewart islands (Wilson, 1982). Although the P. crassifolius is not found on the outer lying islands of New Zealand, a separate species can be found on the Chatham Islands, P. chathamicum Kirk (1899) (Allan, 61).

Canterbury range

As the majority of Cantebury region forests are suitable habitat for the Lancewood, the natural range extends from coastal areas up into the subalpine forests of the Southern Alps. Before forest removal, over the past 1000 years by human colonists, the Lancewoods natural forest habitat would have been significantly more widespread.

Natural History in Canterbury

Habitat where the species is wild

Primarily a forest tree the Lancewood can be found in the forests of lowland, lowland montane, sub-alpine up to about 760 metres and also in shrubland (Metcalf, 1972; Salmon, 1980).

Detailed description of preferred habitats

A hardy species tolerant to wind (Mortimer, 1984) and drought (Darrow et al., 2001; Metcalf, 1972) the Lancewood can be found in a wide range of habitats. Equally happy as a canopy or sub canopy tree it can be found in interior growth forests and forest margins (Burrows, 1996). Study by Burrows (1996) has shown Lancewood to have the ability to germinate in a wide variety of environmental conditions, this allows them to establish in a variety of habitats from open ground to shrubland and on into interior forest habitats.


The Lancewood is dioecious (male or female reproductive organs on separate trees) with inflorescence (flowering) in the mature trees occurring from January to April (Philipson, 1965; Salmon, 1963; Stewart, 1984). Flowering is very rare in the juvenile stage but can occasionally initiate shortly after the transition to the adult form (Allan, 1961). The terminal umbel (where flower stalks grow from the same point to form a cluster) flowers are small, green and inconspicuous and occur commonly as umbellule (a compound umbel consisting of several tiers of umbels) (Metcalf, 1972; Moore, 1978). These form bunches up to 30cm across, also the inflorescence are (less frequently) known to occur racemosely (in which the flowers are borne on short stalks along an elongated stem) (Salmon, 1963). Fruits ripen to a dark 5mm round berry between November and December (Metcalf, 1972; Salmon, 1963). Lancewoods are easily grown from these fleshy fruits (Mortimer, 1984).


No information has been uncovered regarding the longevity of the Lancewood during the research for this report.


Native birds are the primary dispersers of the Lancewood berry fruits. These include the Silvereye (Zosterops lateralis), Bellbird (Anthornis melanura), Keruru (Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae), Tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae) and the Whitehead (Mohoua novaeseelandiae) (Burrows, 1996; Crowe, 1992; Robertson & Heather, 1999).


The Lancewood, as mentioned by Crowe (1992), is a host to the caterpillar of a leaf miner moth which burrow in the leaves. No research has been found regarding the specific nature of these moths.

How to find the Lancewood

The distinctive nature of the juvenile Lancewood makes it obvious in both its natural habitat and also its more recent urban home. The spindly shape of the juvenile trunk with its long, downward pointing leaves appear more like a skeleton of a tree (personal observation). Without the characteristic juvenile leaves the adult form is harder to pick in the forest environment. Once having found a tall straight trunk, identify the dark, evergreen foliage in the form of a round head. The shape of the adult tree is not too dissimilar to a large cabbage tree (personal observation). Although the flowers are fairly inconspicuous the large bunches of ripe berries are more obvious between November and December.

Abundance and Conservation Status

The lancewood is not included in the New Zealand threatened species list (Hitchmough, 2002).

Significance for people

Traditional Maori significance and uses

There is very little scientific record of historical use of the lancewood by the Maori.

Historical uses

Reportedly at one time the juvenile leaves were stripped down to the stringy midrib and used for shoelaces and bridle & saddle repairs by early settlers (Crowe, 1992). As a timber the wood is dense and is one of the toughest of the native timbers (Kirk, 1889; Salmon, 1980). Used extensively in Otago for fence posts and railway sleepers, the straight trunks of Lancewood also made good piles for the jetty at Port Chalmers, where the piles lasted for 30 years without damage by Teredo spp. (a univalve mollusc often associated with wood damage in the marine environment of New Zealand) (Kirk, 1889).

Modern Uses

As an ornamental garden plant the Lancewood makes a striking and memorable specimen. It has a hardy nature being cold and drought resistance, and wind tolerant. This makes it a versatile plant equally suited for solitary or group plantings. The Lancewood has become a popular choice in landscape and garden design and can be found used in council spaces, supermarket carparks (St Martins New World for example), Tertiary education establishments, roadside beautifications, private gardens and numerous other locations (personal observations). The widespread incorporation in the urban landscape is fairly recent; this can be determined by an abundance of juveniles compared to relatively few mature trees.


The Lancewood is a fascinating tree with distinctive juvenile and mature stages. Unique features make this species easy to identify in both the natural and artificial environments. Abundant throughout the North, South and Stewart Islands, there is little to suggest that this status will change, particularly as its youthful presence in the urban environment steadily increases.


Allan, H. H., (1961). Flora of New Zealand. Owen, Wellington, New Zealand, 1961. pp 437–8

Barnes, R. S. K. (1998). The Diversity of Living Organisms. Blackwell Science, Oxford, UK, 1998.

Beever, James, (1991). A Dictionary of Maori Plant Names. Auckland Botanical Society, NZ, 1991.

Burrows, C. J., (1996). Germination Behaviour of the Seeds of Seven New Zealand Woody Plant Species. New Zealand Journal of Botany, volume 34, pages 355–367, 1996.

Crowe, Andrew, (1992). Which Native Tree? A Simple Guide to the Identification of New Zealand Trees. Penguin Books (NZ) Ltd, 1992.

Gould, Kevin S., (1992). Leaf Heteroblasty in Pseudopanax crassifolius: Functional Significance of Leaf Morphology and Anatomy. Annuals of Botany, volume 71(1), pages 61–70, 1993

Hitchmough, Rob, (comp.) (2002). New Zealand Threat Classification System List - 2002: Threatened Species Occasional Publication 23. Department of Conservation, Wellington, 2002

Kirk, Thomas, (1889). Forest Flora of New Zealand. Government Printer, Wellington, NZ. 1889. Plate XXXV

Metcalf, Lawrence James, (1972). The Cultivation of New Zealand Trees. Reed Methuen, Auckland, 1972 revised 1987.

Moore, Lucy B., Irwin, Bruce, (1978). The Oxford Book of New Zealand Plants. Oxford University Press, Wellington, 1978.

Mortimer, John and Bunny (1984). Trees for the New Zealand Countryside: A Planter Guide. Silverfish, Auckland, New Zealand, 1984.

Philipson, W. R., (1965). The New Zealand Genera of The Araliceae. New Zealand Journal of Botany, volume 3, pages 333–341, 1965.

Robertson, Hugh A., Heather, Barrie, D., (1999). The Hand Guide to the Birds of New Zealand. Penguin Books, Auckland, New Zealand, 1999.

Salmon, J. T., (1963). New Zealand Flowers and Plants in Colour. Reed, Wellington, New Zealand, 1963 revised 1970.

Salmon, J. T., (1980). The Native Trees of New Zealand. Reed, Wellington, 1980

Stewart, Ken, (1984). Handguide to the Native Trees of New Zealand. Collins, Auckland, NZ, 1984.

Webb, Colin, Johnson, Peter, Sykes, Bill (1990). Flowering Plants of New Zealand. DSIR Botany, Christchurch, New Zealand, 1990.

Wilson, Hugh D., (1982). Field Guide: Stewart Island Plants. Field Guide Publications, Christchurch, N.Z., 1982

Web based resources

National Botanic Gardens of Belgium:

Climatic requirements:

Search for Pseudopanax crassifolius in New Zealand science online

New Zealand Journal of Ecology articles containing Pseudopanax crassifolius.

Search NZ Royal Society journals for articles containing Pseudopanax crassifolius.