Palm (Lat. palma, the ancient name of the date tree), the general name of plants of the palmacecR or palm family. The species of palms number nearly 1,000, which are distributed in more than 50 genera; as in other large families, there is great diversity among the genera, and these are grouped according to their affinities in five well marked tribes or subfamilies. The characters of the family in which all agree may be briefly stated. The palms are all perennial, woody, endogenous (monocoty-ledonous); the primary root of the seedling decays early, but secondary roots appear at the base of the stem, which form a compact mass, and sometimes so raise up the trunk that it seems to be supported upon props, as in areca lutescens, p. 17. The stem, sometimes a mere rootstock not rising above the surface of the earth, is sometimes short and swollen, but more frequently tall, slender, and erect, in some species reaching the height of 250 ft.; in the cane palms the stem is so weak and slender that it climbs trees and is over 300 ft. long; while a diameter of 3 ft. is reached by some, others are not larger than a small reed; the stem is generally simple, but in a few genera is branched in a forked manner; in two or three genera the stem is swollen near the middle.
As in other endogens, a cross section of a palm stem shows no concentric circles of wood, but a mass of pith through which bundles of woody fibre are irregularly distributed, and these are more numerous toward the circumference than in the centre; as new leaves are formed these woody bundles extend from them down through the central portion of the stem, and finally curving outward lose themselves in the circumference. They have no proper bark, but the exterior portion or rind, by pressure of the interior growth and by an induration which takes place, similar to that in the heart wood of exogenous stems, becomes excessively hard, and in some cases almost impossible to cut with an axe. The leaves are from a terminal bud, the petioles sheathing the stem; after the decay of the leaf the sheathing portion of the leaf stalk remains, usually as a fibrous network; the blade of the leaf, often very large, is fan-shaped or pinnately divided, and presents a great variety of elegant forms; the margins, often depressed, are frequently split into slender filaments. The flowers are very small, rarely perfect, but usually monoecious or dioecious, and in axillary clusters upon a simple or branched spadix, surrounded by a herbaceous or almost woody spathe.
The flowers of chamcerops excelsa are used to illustrate the character of the inflorescence; in this the spathe or sheath to the flowers is small and sheath-like, but in some it is several feet long and woody; within the sheath is shown a portion of the branching spadix or stalk to the flower cluster, with some flowers attached, while separate flowers of both sexes are given at one side. The number of flowers produced by the palms is astonishing; 12,000 have been counted in a spathe of the date, and 207,000 in one of a species of Alfonsia. The perianth is double, and consists of a calyx of three distinct or coherent sepals, within which is a similar corolla; stamens three to six; ovary of one to three more or less united carpels, each with a solitary ovule, and becoming in fruit a berry or drupe, often with a fibrous covering; seed with a cartilaginous or horny albumen. Palms are mostly tropical, a few being found in the hotter portions of the temperate zones; lat. 44° N. and 38° S. are the extreme distances from the equator at which they have been found, and very few grow in these localities; one species is a native of southern Europe, and four are natives of our southern states. (See Palmetto.) Great heat and abundant moisture are essential to their growth, and hence they are rare in the arid regions of the tropics; they are not numerous in Africa, but are abundant in India and tropical America. The palms rank in usefulness next to the grasses, there being scarcely a species which cannot be utilized in some manner: the wood serves to build houses, and the leaves to thatch them; almost all yield useful fibres, which may be used as textile material or for paper; mats, baskets, and numerous utensils are made from the leaves; besides their various edible fruits, they yield food in the form of starch, sugar, and oil, and in their undeveloped leaves; several produce alcoholic drinks by the fermentation of their sap. - In order to notice the many useful products of the family, it will be convenient to group the genera in their several tribes or subfamilies. 1. The areca tribe (arecinece) consists of trees or shrubs with pinnate or bi-pinnate leaves, the pinnules with curved margins; the spathe, which is seldom wanting, is generally of several leaves, rarely monophyllous; the deeply three-lobed fruit is a berry or a drupe.
The betel-nut palm (areca catechu), also known as areca-nut and catechu palm, and called pinang by the Malays, is a large tree growing in India, Ceylon, and the Moluccas; it has very fragrant flowers, which are used in Borneo for decorating, and a drupe-like nut about the size of a hen's egg, with a fibrous rind half an inch thick; the seed is about the size of a nutmeg, which it also resembles in the inottled appearance of its albumen; the nuts are very astringent; by boiling in water and evaporating the decoction a form of catechu is obtained; the nuts yield a charcoal which is sometimes used for tooth powder, but it differs from other coal only in its greater hardness; the principal use of the nuts is as a masticatory. (See Betel.) The cabbage palm of the West Indies, oreodooca oleracea, is so called because the terminal bud, consisting of closely packed, undeveloped leaves, is used as a table vegetable, and is regarded as a delicacy; in order to obtain this, a noble tree over 100 ft. high is sacrificed; the terminal bud in many other species is used in the same manner.
The young unexpanded flower spikes of species of chamcedorea are used as a vegetable in Mexico, and the natives of New Zealand make a similar use of those of Kentia sapida, both of this tribe, and the last named interesting as being found further south than any other palm, in lat. 38° 22'. Several species of the South American genus cenocarpus have fruits with an oily flesh, and the oil obtained from them is used for cooking and for lamps; it is said to be mixed in Para with olive oil as an adulteration; the stiff nerves of the leaves of these palms furnish the Indians with arrows for their blow-guns, which are made by boring the leaf stalks of other palms of this tribe. The East Indian genus caryota, which includes lofty trees of great beauty, furnishes various useful products; palm wine and sugar are obtained from the flower spikes, the trunks yield a good sago, and the leaves furnish a fibre of great strength called Mttul, used for making ropes and mats. The species of this genus are favorites in cultivation, as this is one of the few with bi-pinnate leaves.
When the tree has completed its growth, the flowers are produced in drooping tassels; a flower cluster is produced at the base of the uppermost leaf, then one appears at the next lower leaf, and so on until the lowermost leaf has produced a cluster from its base, when the plant dies. The wax palm of Colombia, ceroxylon andico-la, is a lofty tree growing in elevated regions; it is remarkable for its swollen trunk, which is larger in the middle than it is above or below, and is covered with a whitish wax-like substance, which is collected by felling the tree and scraping; the product of each trunk is about 25 lbs.; it consists of a resin and a wax, and, though too inflammable to be used by itself, it makes good candles when mixed with tallow. 2. The calamus tribe (calamece) consists of sarmentose or runner-like plants and some trees; the pinnate or fan-like leaves are often terminated by a long appendage which is furnished with hooks; the spathe is usually several-leaved, and the fruit a berry covered with overlapping scales.
The principal genus is calamus, of which more than 80 species are described, all natives of Asia, especially the Malayan peninsula, save one in Africa and two in Australia. They are known as rattan and cane palms, the stems of several being found in commerce under these names. Some are low bushes, while others, with stems seldom over an inch thick, climb to a great distance over trees, to which they cling by means of the hooked spines upon their leaf stalks. Some remarkable stories have been told of the great length of these stems; Eumphius's statement that they grow from 1,200 to 1,800 ft. long has not been verified, though it is not rare to find them 300 ft. long. Their leaves are mostly pinnate, with the leaf stalk prolonged into a long whip-like tail; the rose-colored or greenish flowers are in long branching spikes, and the fruit consists of a single seed, surrounded by an edible pulp, which is enclosed by a covering of shiny scales. The stems of these palms are used in their native countries for numerous purposes; they make ropes of great length and strength, used in catching elephants and as cables for vessels; in the Himalaya the stems are used for building suspension bridges.
The rattans of commerce are afforded by calamus ro-tang, G. verus, C. rudentum, and others; they are cut 12 or 16 ft. in length, once doubled, and made into bundles of 100 each; immense numbers of these canes are imported into Europe and America, ana" as new uses are constantly found for them, the consumption rapidly increases. The ease with which they are split, and the strength of very small splints, adapts them to a great variety of wares. One of their commonest uses is to make chair bottoms; chairs are often made entirely of rattans, the whole canes forming the framework, which is filled in with a fabric of split ones; sofas and lounges are made largely of rattans, as are the bodies of fancy carriages; the whole canes are used for making baskets requiring great strength, while the split canes are woven into the most delicate work baskets for ladies. The Malacca canes, highly esteemed as walking sticks, are the stems of C. Scipionum, the joints of which are so far apart that a good cane may be made from a single internode; they have a rich reddish brown color, which is due to their being smoked and varnished with the bark on. A portion of the resinous drug dragon's blood is obtained from the fruit of C. Draco, a species which some botanists place in the genus dazmonorops.
The sago of commerce is mainly furnished by species of sagus, but the pith of other genera affords this form of starch, some of them in sufficient quantities to supply the inhabitants of the countries where they grow with an important share of their food. (See Sago.) The remaining genus of this group, valuable for its products, is mau-ritia, the moriche or Ita palm of tropical South America. M. flexuosa, especially abundant on the Amazon and other rivers, supplies nearly all the wants of the natives; during the great inundations they even suspend their dwellings from the trunks; the skin of the young leaves is spun into cord for making hammocks, the trunk supplies sugar in abundance, and both the sap and the fruit are converted into intoxicating beverages. 3. The borassus tribe (boras-8inece) consists of trees with fan-shaped or pinnate leaves; a woody, fibrous, or (in one genus) net-like spathe, and the fruit a drupe. The principal genus borassus consists of only two species, one of which, B. flabelliformis, is the magnificent Palmyra palm, found throughout tropical Asia, and celebrated for the great number of its useful products.
Its trunk, from 60 to 80 and even 100 ft. high, and 2 ft. in diameter at base, bears a magnificent crown of leaves of a circular fan shape, which including the petiole are 10 ft. long; these are used to thatch houses, to cover floors and ceilings when plaited into mats, and to form a great number of useful articles, from bags and baskets to umbrellas and hats; they also serve as paper, which is written upon with a style; all the important books in Cingalese relative to the religion of Buddha are written upon the laminae of this palm. The fruit is in bunches of 15 or 20, about the size of a child's head, and contains three seeds as large as a goose's egg; the albumen of these is edible when young, but in the ripe seed it is horny; the coating surrounding the seeds is a thick fibrous pulp, which is roasted and eaten; the young seedlings of this tree are cultivated as an article of food, to be eaten in the green state, or they are dried and made into a coarse meal, which is regarded as very nutritious. The most important products of this palm are palm wine (toddy) and sugar (jaggery); these are yielded by many other species and in other countries, but the methods of obtaining them are essentially the same.
When the flower spike makes its appearance, the operator ascends the tree by the aid of a vine or rope passed loosely around his own body and that of the tree; he ties the spathe securely, so that it cannot expand, and beats the base of the spike with a short stick; this beating, which is supposed to determine a flow of sap toward the wounded part, is repeated for several successive mornings; a thin slice is removed from the end of the spathe; about the eighth day the sap begins to flow, and is caught in a jar; the daily flow is two pints or more, and continues for four or five months, the jar being emptied every morning, and a thin slice being at the same time removed from the end of the spathe. This juice readily ferments, and is then palm wine or toddy, which is drunk in that state or is distilled to separate the spirit, known as arrack; if allowed to pass into the acetous fermentation, toddy is converted into vinegar. When sugar is to be made from the juice, it is collected several times a day, and the receiving jars are cleansed with lime to prevent fermentation; it is boiled down and treated in the same manner as cane juice.
The remaining species, B. AEthiopum, of the central part of tropical Africa, furnishes products similar to those of the Asiatic species, but it is said that the natives are not acquainted with the process of extracting toddy. The doum palm of Egypt, which also grows in Arabia and Abyssinia, is hyphcene Thebaica (or cucifera); the genus is remarkable among palms in having branching stems; in the doum palm the trunk is seldom over 30 ft. high; it is simple when young, but in old trees forked three or four times, each branch being terminated by a tuft of large, fan-shaped leaves. The fruit is produced in large clusters of over 100, each the size of an orange, irregular in shape, with a highly polished yellowish brown rind, enclosing a single horny seed; the rind, which is dry, fibrous, and mealy, is said to taste exactly like gingerbread, and, though unpalatable from its dryness, forms a common article of food among the Arabs. The double or sea cocoanut was long a great puzzle to naturalists; its large deeply lobed nuts, appearing like two cocoanuts joined for about half of their length, were occasionally picked up at sea; their origin being unknown, they were in olden times invested with remarkable virtues; the albumen or meat of the nut was regarded 'as a preventive of various diseases, and the shell, used as a drinking cup, imparted similar power to the liquid it contained; enormous prices were paid for single specimens, and they were regarded as among the most costly of regal gifts.
With the exploration of the Seychelles islands in 1743, the source of this "wonderful miracle of nature, the most rare of marine productions," was ascertained; it is the fruit of a palm, growing only on the two small islands Praslin and Curieuse, which was named by La Billardiere Lodoicea Sechellarum. The tree is dioecious, of slow growth, the males attaining 100 ft. in height; it does not blossom until 30 years old, and the fruit is 10 years from that time in maturing; the fruits are borne in clusters of 5 to 11 upon a strong zigzag stalk, and average about 40 lbs. each; they have a tough fibrous husk, which encloses usually one, but sometimes two or three nuts; the nuts serve to make various domestic utensils, and the leaves afford material for the most delicate baskets, bonnets, and articles of fancy work; the wood is valuable, and houses are made of the large leaves. It is feared that the felling of the trees to obtain the nuts, as well as the bud or " cabbage," will before long cause this remarkable species to become extinct.
The bossu of the natives of the southern Amazon is mani-caria saccharifera, the only species of the genus, and grows in the tidal swamps; this is distinguished from other palms by its entire leaves, only occasionally divided when old by splitting; they are frequently 30 ft. long, 4 or 5 ft. wide, and strongly furrowed from the midrib to the margin; these leaves are used for roofing huts. The spathes of this palm are fibrous, and when cut around at the base of the flower cluster, they may be pulled off entire. The spathe is dark brown, and its very strong fibres are so interwoven that it may be stretched to several times its proper diameter without tearing, and forms a very serviceable seamless bag; or if cut, it may be used as a coarse cloth. 4. The tribe coryphineae consists of trees or stemless plants with fan-shaped, rarely pinnate leaves, the pinnules with erect margins; spathes rarely perfect; flowers usually perfect, sometimes polygamous; fruit a berry. The genus corypha includes several stately species, one of the best known being the talipot palm (C. umbraculifera) of Ceylon and other parts of the East; its magnificent leaves are remarkable for their regular plaiting, and form a fan which is nearly a complete circle 4 ft. or more in diameter; the numerous segments are split, and form a double fringe to the margin.
These leaves require little preparation to make the fans used by the Cingalese as emblems of rank; they are put to many other of the uses of palm leaves, including the making of paper. The trunk yields sago. The tura palm of Bengal (C. taliera) and the gebang palm of Java (G. gebanga) are both useful in various ways. The wax palm of Brazil, Copernicia cerifera, bears upon its young leaves a coating of wax; this is collected by shaking the leaves, melted, and run into moulds; it is harder than beeswax, but no method of depriving it of its yellow color having been discovered, its use in candle making is limited. A kind of cane was known in commerce as Penang lawyers a long time before its origin was ascertained; it is now known to be 'the stem of a small palm of this group, licuala acutifida, of the island of Penang; the stem is seldom much more than 5 ft. high, and has a diameter of an inch; the canes are prepared for walking sticks by scraping the surface and polishing. The genus chamce-rops is noted as being the northernmost of the palm family; one species, 0. humilis, grows wild in southern Europe as far as Nice; another (G. excelsa) is found in Asia as high as lat. 44° H".; and one of our southern palms belongs to this genus. (See Palmetto.) The most important tree of this tribe is the date palm, phcenix dactylifera. (See Date.) 5. The fifth tribe, cocoinece, includes both large and small trees, some with thorny trunks; the leaves are pinnate, the pinnules with their margins turned downward; the flowers at first enclosed in a spathe; fruit a drupe, with its exterior portion (sarcocarp) fibrous or oily, the inner portion (endocarp) thick and woody, with three scars, from one of which the embryo issues; seed oily.
This tribe takes its name from its most important genus, cocos, of which there are about a dozen species, including G. nucifera, the cocoanut palm. (See Cocoanut Tree.) The peach palm, Guilielma speciosa, a native of Venezuela, and cultivated in other parts of South America, is a lofty tree, its stem armed with sharp small spines; its fruit, borne in large clusters, is about the size of an apricot, pear-shaped, and scarlet and orange-colored when ripe; the outer portion abounds in starchy matter, and when roasted is said to taste much like the potato; it forms a considerable portion of the food of the natives, who also ferment the fruit with water and prepare an alcoholic beverage. The trees of the genus Maximili-ana form a striking feature in South American scenery; the Inaja palm of the Amazon, M. regia, reaches over 100 ft., and has a crown of immense leaves, which are 30 to 50 ft. long; the spathes are 5 or 6 ft. long, woody, and about 2 ft. broad, tapering at each end to a narrow point; these are used as packages in which to keep and transport flour and other articles, and will resist the action of heat sufficiently to serve as cooking utensils.
The coquita palm of Chili is Jubcea spectabilis, one of the most southern species, and furnishes the palm honey so much used by the Chilians; this is obtained by felling the tree, removing the crown, and catching the sap which runs from the wound; the flow is kept up by removing a thin slice of the end each day, and it continues for several months, each trunk yielding about 90 gallons; the sap is boiled down to the consistence of molasses, and used as a substitute for sugar; the small nuts of the tree are edible, and are a considerable article of export to other parts of South America. They are deprived of their husks in a singular manner; cows and oxen, which are very fond of the green husks, are allowed to feed upon the nuts; they only masticate the husk and swallow the nuts whole; when afterward they chew the cud they reject the nuts, and when the animals have finished ruminating these are found deposited in small heaps, perfectly free from the husk. The piassata of Brazil, Atta-lea funifera, furnishes a strong and valuable fibre in the decayed bases of the leaf stalks; it is also called monkey grass and Para grass, and is used for various purposes; each fibre is the size of a small quill, smooth and stiff; considerable quantities are sent to England, where it is made into coarse brooms; the brushes of street-cleaning machines are made of it.
The fruit of this is different from that in any of the allied genera, it being three-celled and three-seeded. The nuts are an article of commerce, and known as coquillo nuts; they are oval, about 3 in. long, of a rich brown color, and have an extremely hard and bony texture; they are used for making knobs and other small wares, similar to those made from vegetable ivory. The vegetable ivory nut was long regarded as the product of a palm, but the plant of which it is the fruit is found to belong to a different family. (See Phytele-phas.) One of the most important products of this family is palm oil, which is obtained from the fruit of elceis Guineensis of western Africa, where it grows in immense numbers; its trunk, seldom over 30 ft. high, is covered with the remains of dead leaves, and surmounted by a tuft of long, pinnate leaves, with prickly petioles. The flowers are usually dioecious, densely crowded in clusters, and in the females succeeded by a cluster l 1/2 to 2 ft. long, in which the fruit is so compactly crowded that the cluster has been compared to a large pineapple; the individual fruits are an inch and a half long, somewhat pear-shaped, and bright red; they consist of an outer fleshy portion containing the oil, and within, forming about one fourth of the whole, a hard stone from which an oil may also be extracted. (See Palm Oil.) A closely related species of elceis (E. melanococca) is found in South America. - In this review of the great palm family only the species most valuable to man have been mentioned; there are but few which may not be made useful in some manner, and the various products afforded by those here referred to are to be found in more or less abundance and perfection in a multitude of other species. - Palms are often cultivated in warm countries for their useful products, but in northern climates large specimens with their peculiar forms and strikingly tropical foliage can only be enjoyed, save in a few exceptions, under immense structures of glass; and on account of the great height which the trees attain, a palm house is only within the reach of the very wealthy.
The most notable structure of this kind is that at Kew, England, where the house is 362 ft. long, 100 ft. wide, and 64 ft. high, but must soon be raised to allow of the development of the larger specimens. Palms of small growth and young plants of the larger are often found in greenhouses and stoves. Well developed plants of various species are much used for decorative purposes. Palms may be used with fine effect upon lawns and near the entrance to the house; but as the foliage may be injured by heavy winds, only the more robust kinds should be used for this purpose. Two species of chammrops are hardy in France and in portions of England; these, C. exceha from Nepaul (see p. 16) and 0. Fortunei of north China, also called Chusan palm, are of great value in subtropical gardening, as their large fan-shaped foliage is unlike that of any other plants. These withstand a cold considerably below 32°, and would be quite hardy in Virginia and southward; north of that they may be used for outdoor decoration if housed for the winter in a dry cellar or even in a barn. - In very early times the palm was recognized as a token of victory, and in a more general sense of honor and preeminence, a use still retained.
The custom of carrying palm branches (which of course are properly leaves) on occasions of festivity was an ancient one among the Jews, and its observance on Christ's entry into Jerusalem is still commemorated in all Roman Catholic churches on the Sunday before Easter. A curious instance of the influence of religion upon horticulture is in the cultivation of date palms at Bordighera, near Mentone on the Mediterranean; the date is barely hardy in that locality, but is grown in considerable quantities for the purpose of supplying St. Peter's and other churches in Rome, of which it has the monopoly. The leaves of the date are no doubt the true palm branches of the Bible, but in other countries they are represented in the ceremony by such foliage as may be available at that season; in southern and middle Europe the olive is used, and further north the holly; in most parts of our northern states the branches of the hemlock (abies Canadensis) serve for palms, and when nothing else is obtainable sometimes the willow has been employed. - For an account of the palms of the East, reference may be made to Blnme's Rumphia (fol., Amsterdam, 1835-'46), Boyle's "Illustrations of the Botany of the Himalayas " (fol., London, 1839), and Griffith's "Palms of British East Indies" (8vo, incomplete, Calcutta, 1845). For the palms of tropical America, see Martius's Genera et Species Palmarum Brasilia) (fol., Munich, 1823-'45), and his Palmetum Orbignianum, in vol. vii. of D'Orbigny's Voyage (4to, Paris, 1843 -'6), and Wallace's " Palm Trees of the Amazon and Rio Negro" (8vo, London, 1853). Kunth, Ehumeratio Plantarum, vol. iii. (8vo, Stuttgart, 1841), gives a systematic arrangement of all the species known at that time.
A very full description of the family, with copious illustrations of the structure, is given in Maout and Decaisne's " General System of Botany," translated by Mrs. and edited by Dr. J. D. Hooker (4to, London, 1873). For instructions in the cultivation of palms see " Choice Stove and Greenhouse Ornamental-leaved Plants," by B. S. Williams (12mo, London, 1870).
Inflorescence and Fruit of Palm. - 1. Spathe and portion of spadix of Chamaerops. 2. Staminate flower. 3. Pistillate flower. 4. Fruit. 5. Seed. 6. Seed cut vertically.
Palm Stem in Section.
Fruit and Nut of Betel Palm, entire and in section.
Areca lutescens. - A young specimen in pot, to show the ornamental character of small palms.
Toddy Palm (Caryota urens).
Rattan Palm (Calamus rotang).
Palmyra Palm (Borassus flabelliformis).
Doum Palm (Hyphaene Thebaica).
Hardy Palm (Chamserops excelsa).
Coquita Palm (Jubaea spectabilis).
Pissata Palm (Attalea funifera) and Fruit - Coquillo Nuts.