This palm is characterised by the shape of its bipinnate leaves, which are themselves subdivided into several leaflets, which is how it gets the name “fishtail palm”. It is one of the few palms that die when the last lowest inflorescence bear fruit.
Caryota comes from Greek "karion", meaning nut, kernel. Urens means "stinging" in reference to chemical compounds within the fruits which provoke skin rashes.
Description and flowering period
Caryota urens is a palm tree reaching 12 to 20 meters in height. The stipe (trunk-like stem) is solitary, grey and covered in sparse rings (scars from fallen leaves). The leaves are bipinnate, which means they are divided in leaflets which are themselves divided. The shiny deep-green palm leaves can reach 3.5 meter-long. The triangular leaflets, arranged in pairs and presenting partly toothed margins, look like fish-tails – which is where the plant’s common name comes from. The pendulous inflorescences appear one at a time at each leaf-node starting at the top towards the base of the plant. They are up to 3 meter-long panicles which bear numerous tiny white flowers. Those turn into red, 1cm large drupes (pit fleshy fruits). After some time, once even the inflorescences at the base of the stipe have come to fruit, the plant dies. The seeds are disseminated by animals such as bats. Elephants are also particularly fond of its pulp and leaves.
It requires a humus-rich yet free draining soil in a tropical or sub-tropical climate. (its natural habitat is the edge of tropical rainforests).
- Food & drink: The sap present in inflorescences is extracted to produce an alcoholic drink, a syrup as well as sugar; the dried pulp is used as sago (starchy flour).
- Miscellaneous: The stem is used in construction; leaf fibres are turned into ropes, baskets and brushes.
The fruits contain oxalic acid crystals which can cause severe irritations to the skin and mucous membranes.
Translated by: François Saint-Hillier – MNHN