1. Family: Arecaceae Bercht. & J.Presl
    1. Genus: Medemia Württemb. ex H.Wendl.
      1. Medemia argun (Mart.) Württemb. ex H.Wendl.

        The argun palm ( Medemia argun) was first discovered by archaeologists as fruits in the tombs of ancient Egypt. The discovery of Medemia as a living palm did not come until 1837, when it was found growing in the Nubian Desert in northern Sudan. Then, in 1859, these living specimens of Medemia argun were finally linked to the tomb fruits. The fruits are quite widely recorded in archaeological excavations in Egypt, suggesting that the palm was once more widespread.

    [KSP]
    General Description
    The fruits of the argun palm were first discovered by archaeologists in the tombs of the Egyptian Pharaohs.

    The argun palm ( Medemia argun) was first discovered by archaeologists as fruits in the tombs of ancient Egypt. The discovery of Medemia as a living palm did not come until 1837, when it was found growing in the Nubian Desert in northern Sudan. Then, in 1859, these living specimens of Medemia argun were finally linked to the tomb fruits. The fruits are quite widely recorded in archaeological excavations in Egypt, suggesting that the palm was once more widespread.

    The significance of the palm in ancient Egypt remains a mystery. Nowadays, there are only a few localities in which this palm is found, and in most cases the populations there consist of very few individuals.

    Species Profile

    Geography and distribution

    Medemia argunis restricted to a few localities in the Nubian Desert oases of southern Egypt and northern Sudan. This region is so arid that consecutive years pass without any rain falling.

    Medemia argun, as with all desert palms, can only grow in oases where ground water occurs.

    Description

    The argun palm is a dramatic single-stemmed tree palm with fan-shaped leaves that are glaucous blue (blueish-green with a whitish bloom) and have bright yellow petioles (leaf stalks). It is dioecious, meaning that individuals are either male or female.

    It produces inflorescences (flower-bearing parts) with numerous catkin-like branches. The female bears plum-shaped fruits which are purple-black when ripe. The fruit flesh is very thin and surrounds a large seed. The fruits fall from the tree and lie baking in the intense desert sun.

    Though desert mammals appear to eat the flesh, the main dispersal agent could be water during flash floods following very infrequent rains.

    Germinating seeds root very deeply indeed, presumably as an adaptation to finding ground water as quickly as possible.

    Threats and conservation

    The habitats in which Medemia argun occurs are sparsely inhabited. Nevertheless, the palm has experienced considerable pressure. Records from the late 19th century onwards indicate that exploitation of the leaves of Medemiahas been a serious concern for many years, and evidence of destructive leaf harvesting can be found even today. In most sites, the population size is very small and vulnerable to accidental damage or even vandalism (for example by burning). None of the known Medemia populations falls within a protected area.

    A team led by the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, in collaboration with Kew's palm experts, is currently exploring the oases of the Egyptian Nubian Desert to complete a census of Medemiapopulations in the area and work towards a conservation management plan of the oases and their palms.

    Uses

    The leaves are used for weaving, for example to make ropes. It has been reported that the fruits are edible, but with so little fruit flesh and so hard a seed, it is hard to imagine them being palatable. According to Loutfy Boulos, the fruits are buried for a period, during which the endosperm develops a sweet taste similar to coconut.

    Cultivation

    Medemia argun has been cultivated by palm specialists as a result of seed introductions from Sudan. It needs a deep root run to germinate and establish successfully.

    This palm is grown at Kew in the Jodrell Glasshouse (one of the behind-the-scenes glasshouses). Here the nursery collection of palms is grown, as well as plants that are being used for study in the Jodrell laboratories.

    The palm is grown in a pot in a dry sunny position (under glass). The ideal temperature range is 18 to 21˚C. The compost used is a mix containing 10% 9mm loam, 45% coir and 45% Sylvafibre with Osmocote and kieserite. To this mix some perlite, Seramis, grit and sand are added. The aim is to grow the palm in an open, free-draining mix. A liquid feed is provided twice weekly. Apart from this liquid the pot is only watered when the substrate in the pot looks dry.

    Medemia argunhas not been propagated in the Jodrell Glasshouse as it has not yet produced material suitable for nursery propagation. It is subject to occasional pest infestations of mealy bugs and soft scale insects when grown under glass.

    The argun palm at Kew

    There are several archaeological specimens of Medemia argun in Kew's Economic Botany Collection. Kew also holds specimens collected by Speke and Grant on their celebrated expedition to discover the source of the Nile in 1863.

    Distribution
    Egypt, Saudi Arabia
    Ecology
    Desert oases.
    Conservation
    Critically Endangered according to IUCN criteria.
    Hazards

    None known.

    [KSP]
    Use
    The leaves are used for weaving.

    Images

    Distribution

    Found In:

    Egypt, Sudan

    Common Names

    English
    Argun palm

    Medemia argun (Mart.) Württemb. ex H.Wendl. appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Nov 15, 2005 Ibrahim, H. [2], Egypt K000208588
    Nov 15, 2005 Ibrahim, H. [1], Egypt K000208506
    Nov 15, 2005 Ibrahim, H. [1], Egypt 64780.000
    Jan 4, 1997 Gibbons, M. [s.n.], Sudan K000525828
    Gibbons, M. [s.n.], Sudan K000208672
    Anonymous [Cytology98-18] K000462445
    Ibrahim, H. [s.n.], Egypt 64773.000

    First published in Bot. Zeitung (Berlin) 39: 93 (1881)

    Accepted in:

    • [1] Darbyshire, I., Kordofani, M., Farag, I., Candiga, R. & Pickering, H. (eds.) (2015) The Plants of Sudan and South Sudan . Kew publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • [2] (2010) Index synonymique de la flore d'Afrique du nord 1: 1-455. Éditions des conservatoire et jardin botaniques, Genève.
    • [7] Boulos, L. (2005) Flora of Egypt 4: 1-617. Al Hadara Publishing, Cairo.
    • [8] Govaerts, R. & Dransfield, J. (2005) World Checklist of Palms . The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

    Literature

    • [3] (2009) Palms; Journal of the International Palm Society 53: 9-21
    • [4] Ibrahim, H & Baker. W.J. (2009). Medemia argun – Past, Present and Future. Palms. 53: 9–19.
    • [5] Dransfield, J., Uhl, N.W., Asmussen-Lange, C.B., Baker, W.J., Harley, M.M. & Lewis, C.E. (2008). Genera Palmarum - Evolution and Classification of the Palms. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • [6] Pain, S. (2006). Fruits of the tomb. New Sci. 190 (2554): 54, 55.
    • [9] Newton, C. (2001). Le Palmier Argoun, Medemia argun (Mart.) Württemb. ex Wendl. P. 141–153 in Encyclopédie Religieuse de l’Univers Végétal. Croyances phytoreligieuses de l’Égypte ancienne (ERUV) II. OrMonsp XI.
    • [10] Bornkamm, R., Springuel, I. , Darius, F. , Sheded, M. & Radi, M. (2000). Some observations on the plant communities of Dungul Oasis (Western Desert, Egypt). Acta. Bot. Croat. 59: 101–109.
    • [11] Davies, R.I. & Pritchard, H.W. (1998). Seed storage and germination of the palms Hyphaene thebaica, H. petersiana and Medemia argun. Seed Sci. & Technol. 26: 823-828.
    • [12] Gibbons, M. & Spanner, T.W. (1996). Medemia argun lives. Principes. 40: 65–74.
    • [13] David, A.R. & Tapp, E. (1992). The Mummy’s Tale. The Scientific and Medical Investigation of Natsif-Amun, Priest in the Temple of Karnak. Michael O’Mara Books Ltd.
    • [14] Boulos, L. (1968). The discovery of Medemia palm in the Nubian Desert of Egypt. Bot.Not. 121: 117–120.
    • [15] Tackholm , V. Drar., M. (1950). Flora of Egypt 2. Bull. Fac. Sci. Egypt Univ. 28: 296–302.

    • [16] Kunth, C.S. (1826). Recherches sur les plantes trouvées dans les tombeaux égyptiens par M. Passalacqua. Ann. Sci. Nat. (Paris). 8: 418–423.
    • [17] Martius, C.F.P. Von (1823–1850). Historia Naturalis Palmarum. Leipzig, Germany.

    Sources

    International Plant Names Index
    The International Plant Names Index (2016). Published on the Internet http://www.ipni.org
    [A] © Copyright 2016 International Plant Names Index. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

    Kew Species Profiles
    Kew Species Profiles
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    [C]

    PalmWeb
    [D] Content licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

    World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
    World Checklist of Selected Plant Families(2016). Published on the Internet http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
    [E] See http://kew.org/about-kew/website-information/legal-notices/index.htm You may use data on these Terms and Conditions and on further condition that: The data is not used for commercial purposes; You may copy and retain data solely for scholarly, educational or research purposes; You may not publish our data, except for small extracts provided for illustrative purposes and duly acknowledged; You acknowledge the source of the data by the words "With the permission of the Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew" in a position which is reasonably prominent in view of your use of the data; Any other use of data or any other content from this website may only be made with our prior written agreement. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
    [F] © Copyright 2016 International Plant Names Index and World Checkist of Selected Plant Families. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0