Borassus flabellifer L.

First published in Sp. Pl.: 1187 (1753)
This species is accepted
The native range of this species is India to Indo-China, Jawa to Lesser Sunda Islands. It is a tree and grows primarily in the wet tropical biome.

Descriptions

Bayton, R. (2007). A Revision of Borassus L. (Arecaceae). Kew Bulletin, 62(4), 561-585. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/20443389

Type
Ampana Rheede (1678: 13-14, pl. 10) and Carimpana Rheede, (1678: 11-12, pl. 9), (Lectotype chosen by Moore & Dransfield, 1979: 60 [Ampana designated lectotype if only one element is selected]).
Morphology Stem
Stem to 20 m tall, grey with well-defined leaf scars, not ventricose, but often enlarged at the base, branching occasionally when damaged
Morphology Leaves
Leaves petiole and sheath 150 - 180 cm long; petiole 4- 6(- 7) cm wide at midpoint, robust, bright yellow, margins black with short (0.3 -1.3 cm) black erose teeth; costa 60 - 110 cm long; adaxial hastula conspicuous, abaxial hastula rudimentary; lamina radius to 150 cm maximum, dense adaxial and abaxial. indumentum on the ribs of some juvenile leaves, leaflets -62, 4.2 - 9.5 cm wide, apices acute and entire or splitting longitudinally with age, shortest leaflet 13 - 39 cm long, leaf divided to 30 - 100 cm; commissural veins 11 - 18 per cm, leaf anatomy isolateral.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences
Pistillate inflorescences usually spicate (branched inflorescence pictured in the lectotype), flower-bearing portion 12 - 85 cm long with 5 - 20 flowers arranged spirally Staminate inflorescences branched to two orders, upper subtending branches terminating in 1 - 3(- 4) rachillae; rachillae green to brown and catkin-like, 23 - 50 cm long and 1.8 - 2.5 cm diameter, sometimes with a mamilliform apex, rachilla bracts forming pits containing a cincinnus of 4 - 7 flowers.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers
Staminate flowers exserted from pits individually, 0.24 - 0.6 cm long, bracteoles 0.4 - 0.7 x 0.1 - 0.3 cm, calyx 0.3 x 0.15 cm and shallowly divided into three sepals, petal lobes 0.1 x 0.1 cm; stamens 6 with very short filaments, 0.2 x 0.03 cm, anthers, 0.05 x 0.03 cm; pistillode minute Pistillate flowers 3 x 3 cm; bracteoles large, 2 cm diam., sepals 1.5 x 2 cm, petals 1 x 1.5 cm
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Pollen
Pollen monosulcate, elliptical, 48 - 95 μm long, aperture 40 - 95 μm long, polar axis 30 - 89 μm long; tectum perforate, sparsely covered with supratectal gemmae
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Fruits massive, 8.5 - 13 x 7.5 - 16.5 cm, yellowish black, ovoid and rounded or flattened at the apex; produced inside persistent perianth segments; epicarp coriaceous, mesocarp pulp yellow, pyrenes 1 - 3, 6.1 - 10.8 cm x 4.4 - 8.5 cm x 3.1 - 4.6 cm, somewhat bilobed; most pyrenes with one or two external, longitudinal furrows; internal flanges absent.
Distribution
South and Southeast Asia. Determining the 'natural' distribution of Borassus flabellifer is essentially impossible as it is a widely planted crop plant. It is largely restricted to areas with seasonal rainfall and ranges from western India through Indochina to the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia. Populations in China, Malaysia and Pakistan may be introduced (Whitmore 1973; Malik 1984; Pei 1991). Borassus flabellifer was noted to occur in Queensland, Australia by Bailey (1902). A seedling was collected from a small population of mature palms and cultivated in the garden of Frank L. Jardine in Somerset on the Cape York Peninsula of northern Queensland. Jones (1984) noted that the palm was still present in the garden of Jardine's abandoned house, but the original population was never located and the natural occurrence of Borassus in Australia is doubtful. The Borassus palms on the island of Soqotra have tentatively been assigned to B. flabellifer. Soqotra is geographically closer to Africa and the palms were identified as the African B. aethiopum by Miller & Morris (2004). The available herbarium material does not allow for a conclusive identification (the diagnostic fruits and petiole spines are missing), but a photograph presented by Miller & Morris (2004) shows a mature plant without a ventricose stem. This suggests that the palms, which were introduced to the island, are B. flabellifer.
Ecology
It is difficult to determine the original habitat of B. flabellifer as its distribution is so heavily influenced by man. It occurs between sea level and 800 metres, though is more abundant at low altitude and is particularly common in coastal areas with sandy or alluvial soils and in areas with permanent soil moisture such as flood plains and river valleys. It is commonly grown along the margins of rice paddies forming one of the most distinctive landscapes of Southeast Asia.
Conservation
Least concern. Borassus flabelifer is widely distributed and is common in cultivation. The abundance of products extracted from it will effectively ensure its continued survival.
Note
The epithet 'flabellifer' translates as 'producing fans' and refers to the palmate leaves.
Vernacular
Kerigi (Soqotra), Miak tan kok (Lao), Panna-maram (Tamil, Sri Lanka), Taan, Than or Tan (Thai). There are many other names applied to this widespread species (see Kovoor 1983), but the name palmyrah (or palmyra), derived from the Portuguese palmeira, has become the internationally familiar vernacular name.
[KBu]

Distribution
South and Southeast Asia. Determining the ‘natural’ distribution of Borassus flabellifer is essentially impossible as it is a widely planted crop plant. It is largely restricted to areas with seasonal rainfall and ranges from western India through Indochina to the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia. Populations in China, Malaysia and Pakistan may be introduced (Whitmore 1973; Malik 1984; Pei 1991). Borassus flabellifer was noted to occur in Queensland, Australia by Bailey (1902). A seedling was collected from a small population of mature palms and cultivated in the garden of Frank L. Jardine in Somerset on the Cape York Peninsula of northern Queensland. Jones (1984) noted that the palm was still present in the garden of Jardine’s abandoned house, but the original population was never located and the natural occurrence of Borassus in Australia is doubtful. The Borassus palms on the island of Soqotra have tentatively been assigned to B. flabellifer. Soqotra is geographically closer to Africa and the palms were identified as the African B. aethiopum by Miller & Morris (2004). The available herbarium material does not allow for a conclusive identification (the diagnostic fruits and petiole spines are missing), but a photograph presented by Miller & Morris (2004) shows a mature plant without a ventricose stem. This suggests that the palms, which were introduced to the island, are B. flabellifer.
Biology
It is difficult to determine the original habitat of B. flabellifer as its distribution is so heavily influenced by man. It occurs between sea level and 800 metres, though is more abundant at low altitude and is particularly common in coastal areas with sandy or alluvial soils and in areas with permanent soil moisture such as flood plains and river valleys. It is commonly grown along the margins of rice paddies forming one of the most distinctive landscapes of Southeast Asia.
Conservation
Least concern. Borassus flabellifer is widely distributed and is common in cultivation. The abundance of products extracted from it will effectively ensure its continued survival.
Vernacular
Kerigi (Soqotra), Mak tan kok (Lao), Panna-maram (Tamil, Sri Lanka), Taan, Than or T¯an (Thai). There are many other names applied to this widespread species (see Kovoor 1983), but the name palmyrah (or palmyra), derived from the Portuguese palmeira, has become the internationally familiar vernacular name.
General Description
Stem to 20 m tall, grey with well-defined leaf scars, not ventricose, but often enlarged at the base, branching occasionally when damaged. Leaves petiole and sheath 150 – 180 cm long; petiole 4 – 6(– 7) cm wide at midpoint, robust, bright yellow, margins black with short (0.3 – 1.3 cm) black erose teeth; costa 60 – 110 cm long; adaxial hastula conspicuous, abaxial hastula rudimentary; lamina radius to 150 cm maximum, dense adaxial and abaxial indumentum on the ribs of some juvenile leaves, leaflets ~62, 4.2 – 9.5 cm wide, apices acute and entire or splitting longitudinally with age, shortest leaflet 13 – 39 cm long, leaf divided to 30 – 100 cm; commissural veins 11 – 18 per cm, leaf anatomy isolateral. Staminate inflorescences branched to two orders, upper subtending branches terminating in 1 – 3(– 4) rachillae; rachillae green to brown and catkin-like, 23 – 50 cm long and 1.8 – 2.5 cm diameter, sometimes with a mamilliform apex, rachilla bracts forming pits containing a cincinnus of 4 – 7 flowers. Pistillate inflorescences usually spicate (branched inflorescence pictured in the lectotype), flower-bearing portion 12 – 85 cm long with 5 – 20 flowers arranged spirally. Staminate flowers exserted from pits individually, 0.24 – 0.6 cm long, bracteoles 0.4 – 0.7 × 0.1 – 0.3 cm, calyx 0.3 × 0.15 cm and shallowly divided into three sepals, petal lobes 0.1 × 0.1 cm; stamens 6 with very short filaments, 0.2 × 0.03 cm, anthers, 0.05 × 0.03 cm; pistillode minute. Pollen monosulcate, elliptical, 48 – 95 μm long, aperture 40 – 95 μm long, polar axis 30 – 89 μm long; tectum perforate, sparsely covered with supratectal gemmae. Pistillate flowers 3 × 3 cm; bracteoles large, 2 cm diam., sepals 1.5 × 2 cm, petals 1 × 1.5 cm. Fruits massive, 8.5 – 13 × 7.5 – 16.5 cm, yellowish black, ovoid and rounded or flattened at the apex; produced inside persistent perianth segments; epicarp coriaceous, mesocarp pulp yellow, pyrenes 1 – 3, 6.1 – 10.8 cm × 4.4 – 8.5 cm × 3.1 – 4.6 cm, somewhat bilobed; most pyrenes with one or two external, longitudinal furrows; internal flanges absent.
[PW]

Uses

Use
Almost every part of the palmyrah palm can be used. The wood is thought to be termite resistant and is used for construction (houses, canoes, fence posts etc.). The leaves are used for thatch, weaving and for making containers for some foodstuffs. The leaflets of B. flabellifer (together with those of Corypha umbraculifera L.) are traditionally used as a writing surface. They are marked using a hot metal stylus with the parallel veins providing a convenient line upon which to write (Sankaralingham & Hameed Khan 2001). Palmyrah provides a variety of foods; the fruits, undeveloped endosperm and apical bud (palm cabbage) are consumed and the inflorescences are tapped for the sweet sap. This can be fermented into palm wine or the sugar can be crystallised. On some Indonesian islands, this sugar is the primary source of carbohydrates (Fox 1977). For a review of the uses of B. flabellifer, see Kovoor (1983) and Mortoil (1988).
[KBu]

Use
Almost every part of the palmyrah palm can be used. The wood is thought to be termite resistant and is used for construction (houses, canoes, fence posts etc.). The leaves are used for thatch, weaving and for making containers for some foodstuffs. The leaflets of B. flabellifer (together with those of Corypha umbraculifera L.) are traditionally used as a writing surface. They are marked using a hot metal stylus with the parallel veins providing a convenient line upon which to write (Sankaralingham & Hameed Khan 2001). Palmyrah provides a variety of foods; the fruits, undeveloped endosperm and apical bud (palm cabbage) are consumed and the inflorescences are tapped for the sweet sap. This can be fermented into palm wine or the sugar can be crystallised. On some Indonesian islands, this sugar is the primary source of carbohydrates (Fox 1977). For a review of the uses of B. flabellifer, see Kovoor (1983) and Morton (1988).
[PW]

Sources

  • Art and Illustrations in Digifolia

    • Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew
  • Herbarium Catalogue Specimens

    • Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
  • Kew Backbone Distributions

    • The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants 2022. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and https://powo.science.kew.org/
    • © Copyright 2022 World Checklist of Vascular Plants. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0
  • Kew Bulletin

    • Kew Bulletin
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
  • Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone

    • The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants 2022. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and https://powo.science.kew.org/
    • © Copyright 2022 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0
  • Kew Science Photographs

    • Copyright applied to individual images
  • Palmweb - Palms of the World Online

    • Palmweb 2011. Palmweb: Palms of the World Online. Published on the internet http://www.palmweb.org. Accessed on 21/04/2013
    • Content licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0