The Arecaceae are a botanical family of perennial lianas, shrubs, and trees commonly known as palm trees. There are more than 2600 species currently known and most of them are in tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate climates. As well as being morphologically diverse, palms also inhabit nearly every type of habitat within their range, from rainforests to deserts.
Many common products and foods are derived from palms, and palms are also widely used in lands…caping for their exotic appearance, making them one of the most economically important plants. In many historical cultures, palms were symbols for such ideas as victory, peace, and fertility. Today, palms remain a popular symbol for the tropics and vacations.
Mon-Ki Key will showcase 30+ varieties of palms over the first 6 books. Our favorite historical reference to the palm was that of peace.
Along with dates for eating, members of the palm family with human uses are numerous.
- The type member of Arecaceae is the areca palm, the fruit of which, the areca nut, is chewed with the betel leaf for intoxicating effects (Areca catechu).
- Carnuba wax is harvested from the leaves of a Brazilian palm (Copernicia).
- Rattans, whose stems are used extensively in furniture and baskets, are in the genus Calamus.
- Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil produced by the oil palms in the genus Elaeis.
- Several species are harvested for heart of palm, a vegetable eaten in salads.
- Sap of the nipa palm Nypa is used to make vinegar.
- Palm sap is sometimes fermented to produce palm wine or toddy, an alcoholic beverage common in parts of Africa, India, and the Philippines. It is also drunk, fresh, as neera, and is a refreshing drink that is consumed until sundown, after which it starts to ferment.
- Palmyra and Date Palm sap is harvested in Bengal, India, to process into gur, jaggery
- Dragon’s blood, a red resin used traditionally in medicine, varnish, and dyes, may be obtained from the fruit of Daemonorops species.
- Coconut is the edible fruit of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera).
- Coir is a coarse, water-resistant fiber extracted from the outer shell of coconuts, used in doormats, brushes, mattresses, and ropes. In India, beekeepers use coir in their bee smokers.
- Some indigenous groups living in palm-rich areas use palms to make many of their necessary items and food. Sago, for example, a starch made from the pith of the trunk of the sago palm Metroxylon sagu, is a major staple food for lowland peoples of New Guinea and the Moluccas. This is not the same plant commonly used as a house plant and called “sago palm”.
- Palm wine is made from Jubaea also called Chilean wine palm, or coquito palm
- Recently, the fruit of the açaí palm Euterpe has been used for its reputed healthful benefits.
- Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is under investigation as a drug for treating enlarged prostates.
- Palm leaves are also valuable to some peoples as a material for thatching, basketry, clothing, and in religious ceremonies (see “Symbolism” below).