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The World's Best
By Franklin W. Martin
Edited by Craig Elevitch
Copyright © 1999; reprinted with permission

Chapter 1. Palm Facts

Among the plants of the Tropics it is difficult to find a family of plants of more service to people than the palm family (Palmae, Arecaceae). In fact, this family has been called the most versatile of all due to its many uses. A better known family and still more important as a source of food is the grass family for the principal crops it provides, wheat, rice and corn. Yet the grass family has few other uses compared with the palm family.

Palms seldom receive the recognition they merit, perhaps because the family is almost entirely of the tropics, and almost completely absent in temperate zones where there are more writers of books and magazines as well as researchers. This handbook hopes to remedy in part this neglect and to make known to its readers some of the most important palms and their uses. It also aims to stimulate readers to grow and use palms with the belief that these plants can be of much, much more service. Furthermore, the palms are one of the largest and most agreeable parts of the tropical landscape.

The Structure of Palms

With its simple structure, it is difficult to imagine all of the purposes a palm can serve. The palm usually has a simple trunk with a network of roots in the soil and a long or spatulate leaves, called fronds, originating at the top from a single bud. Flowers are produced in clusters which arise from the axils of the leaves. These may be male, female, or hermaphroditic. From the female flower parts a fruits arises which may have a fleshy or fibrous outer coat, a hard inner coat, and a somewhat hard, often hollow endosperm. Almost all palms are variations of this theme. Because the palm normally has only a single growing tip, damage or destruction of the tip often results in the death of the palm.

Records Involving Palms

Palms beat records in many ways, as follows:

Most versatile plant family in total uses:  Palmae
Most versatile plant family in food uses:  Palmae
World’s longest woody vines: Rattan palms, Calamus, Daemonorhops, Desmoncus, and others
World’s longest leaves: Raffia palms, Raphia, 65 ft.
World’s longest inflorescence Talipot palm, Corypha umbraculifera
Palm that dies after fruiting  Talipot and others
Palm that flowers from top down, then dies Fishtail palms, Caryota, and others
World’s largest seed Double coconut, Lodoicea maldivica
World’s hardest seed Ivory nut palm, Phytelephas
World’s tallest palm Wax palms, Ceroxylon, 200 ft.
World’s single best starch source Sago palm, Metroxylon
The branched palms Gingerbread and doum palms, Hyphaene
A narcotic seed that is chewed Betel nut palm, Areca catechu
Most versatile plant in the world Coconut palm, Cocos nucifera


Contents 1. Palm Facts 2. Uses of Palms Throughout the World 3. The Coconut Palm 4. Palms for Staple Food
5. Palms for Edible Fruits 6. Palms for Drinks, Sugar and Starch 7. Palms for Vegetables 8. Palms for Oil 9. Cultivating Palms

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