By MARTIN JOHNSTON
Mike Manton has good reason to hate phoenix palms. They have blighted his life and he wants them banned.
A spike from one pierced his right thigh and snapped off a year ago while he was loading fallen palm branches on to a trailer at the Vaughan Homestead in Long Bay Regional Park, on the North Shore, where he was the caretaker.
Five operations later, Mr Manton, aged 58, still uses a walking stick, takes Prozac for depression, and has been told by ACC it is unlikely he will be able to do a standing-up job again.
He had to leave the part-time caretaker's job, his weekday job as a security officer and his post as a volunteer firefighter because of his incapacity. He receives income from ACC.
Mr Manton rang the Herald after reading the paper's report that some doctors, plant shops and councils were discouraging planting of the palms because of their hard, needle-thin spikes, which can exceed 10cm in length. Numerous parks and public gardens, including the Auckland Domain, have the trees, which can grow to more than 20m.
A Starship children's hospital study found that 8 per cent of the 250 foreign-body injuries treated over five years at the hospital were caused by phoenix date palm spikes. All 21 of those children required surgery and in all but one, fragments were removed.
The spikes contain chemicals which cause inflammation and swelling. The study doctors noted that residual fragments in such injuries were notoriously difficult to detect.
Mr Manton went to his own doctor, four times to North Shore Hospital and finally to a plastic surgeon.
The first hospital operation revealed nothing but in the second, the doctor hooked out a 2.5cm spike embedded deep in his right lateral thigh muscle.
It kept swelling and causing pain so ACC referred him to a plastic surgeon who in November pulled out the remaining tiny fragments and found damaged muscle.
Mr Manton, who was on crutches until Christmas, said this week: "I've been to hell and back."
Liz Darlow, president of the Torbay Historic Society, which leases the homestead from the Auckland Regional Council, said of the phoenix palms: "I guess the ideal would be to remove them entirely."
But a council spokeswoman, Megan Perry, said they were of visual and possibly historic significance. The council acquired the land about 30 years ago and they were planted before then.
Mr Manton's was the first palm-spike injury the council was aware of during its tenure, indicating "the risk levels are fairly insignificant," Ms Perry said. Fallen branches were removed frequently and the ARC planted only natives in parks.
Some local councils no longer plant phoenix palms although they remain popular with many developers.
Waitakere City is replacing some in Central Park Drive with pohutukawa and has not approved any subdivision plans proposing phoenix palms for 18 months.
By MARTIN JOHNSTON