Guest Author - Preena Deepak
The Asian Palmyra Tree, Borassus flabellifer is extensively grown in India especially in the Southern States. The palm tree takes several years to grow and is one of the most useful trees found in India. Cultivating palm trees requires minimal human effort and most often these trees can be found in the wild in India. In the heart of South India lies the quaint village of ‘Pannaikulam’ meaning ‘Lake of Palms’. This village has acquired this name mainly because of the huge palmyra plantations here.
Palm trees closely resemble coconut trees which are also commonly cultivated in India. However there are several differences between both these trees. Palmyra palm trees grow up to a height of 30 m and have a black, cylindrical stem with no branches. Several corrugations can be seen on the stem which is nothing but the remnants of fallen leaves. The fan shaped leaves of the palmyra tree are clustered at the head of the tree. Palm fruit is circular in shape and is borne only by female trees while toddy (an indigenous beverage) can be obtained from both male and female palm trees.
Indians have learnt to use every part of the palm tree and there are several communities who depend on the palm tree for their livelihood.
Palm leaves are dried and used to make several utilities like mats, hand held fans, baskets, hats and umbrellas. They are also used by villagers to thatch roofs of houses and sheds. Stalks of Palmyra trees can be dried and used as fencing materials too. In olden days it was a practice in India to use dried palm leaves to inscribe words using a stylus. Several such ancient writings on palm leaves are preserved in Indian museums today.
The mature fruit of the palm tree is peeled to obtain the juicy pulp which has a sweet taste and is jelly like in appearance. Palm fruit can be eaten raw or combined with flour and sugar to make sweet dishes. It is consumed during the summer months and refreshes the throat with its cool juice. Palm fruit is nutritious too with no trace of fat!
Seedlings of palm trees can be eaten after 3 or 4 months of cultivation. Some coastal communities boil and eat these nutritious parts of the palm tree which forms a part of their staple diet. However the most sought after portion of the palm tree is toddy which is obtained by tapping the inflorescence of both male and female trees. Toddy has a sweet taste when fresh. It is often fermented and consumed as a home brewed beverage. Jaggery can also be obtained from palm trees and is another useful product used in Indian cuisine.
The trunk of mature trees is usually strong and is used as supporting beams to construct sheds, jetties and also in roofing. Palm trees are also used for ornamental purposes in gardening and other species of palmyra are grown in India exclusively for their aesthetic value.
Here are two books for further reading on Palm Trees
Buy Palm Trees from Flipkart.com
Palms of Southern Asia (Princeton Field Guides)