Caryota urens l
Scientific Name: Caryota Urens L
Solitary Fishtail Palm, Toddy Palm, Jaggery Palm
Genus: Caryota – is derived from ‘caryon’, which means a nut in Greek in reference to their fruits.
Species: urens – is Latin for ‘stinging’ or ‘burning’, alluding to the oxalic acid crystals in the fruits, which are skin and membrane irritants.
Widely distributed across India to Peninsular Malaysia. The exact origin of Caryota urens is uncertain, and populations outside India and Sri Lanka may be the result of early human introduction.
They grow in fields and rainforest clearings at up to 300 m above sea level.
A solitary-trunked palm, growing up to 12–20 m tall. The grey trunk is covered with widely-spaced leaf-scar rings. The leaves are bipinnate (divided into leaflets that divide again) with a terminal leaflet.
Caryota is the only genus of palm with bipinnate leaves. They are bright to deep green, up to 3.5 m long and held on 60 cm long petioles (leaf stalks). Each leaflet is about 30 cm long with one pointed edge and one jagged edge and their distinctive shape accounts for the palm’s common name, fishtail palm.
These palms are monocarpic (syn. hapaxanthic), they only flower once in their lifetime and die after flowering. Flowering begins at the top of the trunk and proceeds downwards, sometimes for several years.
The 3 m long inflorescences emerge at each leaf node producing pendent clusters of white, unisexual flowers. Flowers remain open on each inflorescence for about six weeks. The fruit matures to a round, red drupe about 1 cm wide and contains a single seed. Seeds are dispersed by animals such as fruit bats and palm civets.
Solitary fishtail palm is cultivated both for its products and as an ornamental. The trunk yields starch (sago), which is eaten in times of famine. Sap is tapped from the inflorescence and then fermented into an alcoholic drink (palm wine or toddy) or boiled down to make syrup or sugar (jaggery). The stem apex (palm heart or palm cabbage) can be eaten when cooked. The leaves produce strong fibres that are made into ropes, brushes and baskets. Kittal fibre (obtained from the fibrous vascular bundles of the leaf) is exported from Sri Lanka. The trunk is used for construction and is also notable for its attractive appearance and strength.
Note: Care needs to be taken handling the fruit of all Caryota sp. as they contain oxalic acid crystals which are a skin and membrane irritant. They cannot be eaten.
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