Monday, 14 May 2018

Borassus - Palmyra Palm

Borassus aethiopum is a species of Borassus palm from Africa.

In English it is variously referred to as African fan palm, African palmyra palm, deleb palm, ron palm, toddy palm, black rhun palm, ronier palm from the French.

It is widespread across much of tropical Africa from Senegal to Ethiopia and south to northern South Africa, though it is largely absent from the forested areas of Central Africa and desert regions such as the Sahara and Namib.

This palm also grows in northwest Madagascar and the Comoros.

The typical form of Borassus aethiopum is a solitary palm to 25 metres (82 ft) in height and 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) in diameter at the base.

In the river bottoms or floodplains of many East African rivers the Rufiji in Tanzania and the Tana in Kenya among others, a closely related form can be up to seven feet (2.1 meters) thick at breast height (4 feet (1.2 meters) above ground) and having the same thickness in its upper ventricosity.

It also has a height of up to 100 feet (30.5 meters). The fan-shaped leaves are 3 metres (9.8 ft) wide larger, to 12 feet (3.66 meters) in the bottom lands form with petioles 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) long.

The margins are armed with spines. In male plants, the small flowers are largely concealed within the scaly catkins, the much larger female flowers reach 2 centimetres (0.79 in) wide and produce yellow to brown fruits.

Each fruit contains 1-3 seeds, each enclosed within a woody endocarp. The floodplains variety is almost certainly the most massive of all palms.

The tree has many uses: the fruit are edible, as are the tender roots produced by the young plant.

Fibres can be obtained from the leaves; and the wood which is reputed to be termite-proof can be used in construction.

Species of Borassus

- Borassus aethiopum. African Palmyra palm, Ronier found in tropical Africa & Madagascar.

- Borassus akeassii. Ake Assi's Palmyra palm found in West and Central Africa.

- Borassus flabellifer. Asian Palmyra palm/Lontar palm/Doub palm found in southern Asia from India to Indonesia.

- Borassus heineanus. New Guinea Palmyra palm found in New Guinea.

- Borassus madagascariensis. Madagascar Palmyra palm found in Madagascar.

Borassus or Palmyra palm is a genus of five species of fan palms, native to tropical regions of Africa, Asia and New Guinea.

These massive palms can grow up to 30 m (98 ft) high and have robust trunks with distinct leaf scars; in some species the trunk develops a distinct swelling just below the crown, though for unknown reasons.

The leaves are fan-shaped, 2–3 m long and with spines along the petiole margins,no spines in Borassus heineanus.

The leaf sheath has a distinct cleft at its base, through which the inflorescences appear; old leaf sheaths are retained on the trunk, but fall away with time.

All Borassus palms are dioecious, with male and female flowers on separate plants; male flowers are less than 1 cm long and in semi-circular clusters, sandwiched between leathery bracts in pendulous catkins.

Female flowers are 3–5 cm wide, globe-shaped and solitary, sitting directly on the surface of the inflorescence axis.

The fruits are 15–25 cm wide, roughly spherical and each contain 1-3 large seeds. Depending on species, fruit color varies from black to brown, yellow or orange; the fibrous pulp is aromatic and sweet to taste.

Each seed is enclosed in a woody endocarp, which protects it when the fruit is consumed by elephants, monkeys and other frugivores.

At germination, the young seedling extends downwards into the soil and only a few leaves are visible above ground; this provides some protection against frequent fires in its savanna habitat.

After an indeterminate number of years, the seedling forms a stem and quickly grows above the savanna vegetation, where it is then less vulnerable to fire.
Palmyra palms are economically useful and widely cultivated, especially in Southeast Asia.

The Palmyra palm has long been one of the most important trees of Cambodia and India, where it has over 800 uses.

The leaves are used for thatching, mats, baskets, fans, hats, umbrellas, and as writing material.

In Cambodia, the tree is a national floral symbol/emblem that is seen growing around Angkor Wat.

Palmyra palms can live for over 100 years.

In ancient India and Indonesia, Palmyra leaves were used as writing paper, with their parallel veins providing a useful rule.

In India, mature leaves of suitable size, shape and texture were chosen and preserved by boiling in salt water with turmeric powder.

Once dry enough, the leaf surfaces were polished with pumice, cut to the proper size and a hole was cut in one corner.

Each leaf has four pages and a stylus is used to write; the style is cursive and interconnected. Completed leaves are then tied up as sheaves.

The black timber is hard, heavy, and durable and highly valued for construction, especially in structures exposed to water, such as wharves, fences and boats.

The tree yields many types of food. The young plants are cooked as a vegetable or roasted and pounded to make meal.

The fruits are eaten roasted or raw, as are the young, jelly-like seeds.

A sugary sap, called toddy, can be obtained from the young inflorescence, both male and female, and this is fermented to make a beverage called arrack, or concentrated to produce a crude sugar called jaggery/palm sugar.

It is called Gula Jawa or Javanese sugar in Indonesia and is widely used in Javanese cuisine.

The roots can be dried to form Odiyal, a hard chewable snack. In addition, the tree sap is taken as a laxative, and medicinal values have been ascribed to other parts of the plant.

The Palmyra tree is the official tree of Tamil Nadu. In Tamil culture it is called karpaha,nungu celestial tree, and is highly respected because all its parts can be used.

The recently germinated seeds form fleshy sprouts below the surface which can be boiled and eaten as a fibrous, nutritious food.

The germinated seed's hard shell is also cut open to take out the crunchy kernel which tastes like a water chestnut but sweeter. The ripe fibrous outer layer of the fruits is edible after boiling or roasting.

When the fruit is tender, the kernel inside the hard shell is an edible jelly that is refreshing and rich in minerals.

When the crown of the tree from which the leaves sprout is cut one can make a cake. In ancient times, dried palm leaves were used to write manuscripts.

Palakkad District of Kerala State is popularly known as land of Palmyra trees.

Palmyra trees are known as the icon of this district and has a vast cultural, heritage and literary association.

Many novels, stories and poems revolve around these trees The path-breaking Malayalam novel written by the Indian writer O. V. Vijayan, Khasakkinte Itihasam mentions Palmyra trees in various angles.

Many people especially in eastern Palakkad live on earnings by tapping Palmyra toddy, which is sold in outlets controlled by co-op societies.

The district authorities are taking action to preserve these trees and maintain Palakkad’s identity.


Tourism Observer
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