Asian Palmyra Palm, Borassus flabellifer
The Asian Palmyra Palm, Borassus flabellifer, is a plant in the Borassus genus. Other names for the tree are the toddy palm, sugar palm, and Cambodian palm. It is a vigorous tree, living 100 years or more. It is held aloft at 98 feet high on a large, sturdy trunk that resembles a coconut, and is ringed with leaf scars. The leaves create a canopy of several dozen fronds spreading across 10 feet. Growth of these trees is slow in the beginning, but speeds up as it begins to mature. It is an attractive species for landscaping for its growth pattern, great size and clean habits.
Although its fruit is known for many names in many languages, it is commonly known by the British as “ice-apple.” The fruit is born in clusters and surrounded by a black husk with a 4 to 7 inch diameter. By cutting the top portion of the fruit, three sweet, translucent pale-white jelly seed sockets are revealed. It looks comparable to the lychee, but there is no pit and the taste is much milder. A thin yellowish brown skin covers the jelly part of the fruit.
Palm fruits have a fibrous outer layer which when ripened, can be eaten raw, roasted, or boiled.
The young inflorescence male and female plants produce a sugary sap called Toddy. A beverage called Arrack is made from fermented Toddy, or it is concentrated to a crude sugar called jaggery. In Indonesia, the sugar is called Gula Jawa and is popular in Javanese cuisine. The tree sap has also been utilized as a laxative, while other parts of the tree have been used for various medicinal purposes.
In different regions of India and Sri Lanka, it is common practice to plant the seeds and allow them to germinate. Inside the germinated seeds is a delicious crunchy kernel, tasting much like a Water Chestnut, yet sweeter. Another common practice is to boil the fleshy stems and eat them, for they are an excellent source of fiber and nutrition.
Dried leaves are often used for thatching mats, baskets, fans, hats, umbrellas, and writing material.
Ancient Indonesian culture made paper, called “lontar”, from the leaves. The process requires leaves of suitable size, shape, texture, and maturity to be boiled in a preservative bath mixture of salt water and turmeric powder. When the leaves are completely dried, a pumice stone is used to polish the face of the leaf. Then the polished leaf is cut into appropriate page size and a hole is cut in one corner. The leaves are tied up at the corner holes as sheaves. Each leaf yields four pages.
The stalks are utilized for making sturdy fences, and also produce a durable, wiry fiber fitting for making cords or brushes. The black timber is highly valued for construction because of its hard, heavy, resilient properties.
When the crown of the tree is removed, the remaining segment from which the trees grow out reveal an edible cake, called pananchoru.
The Palmyra tree is the official tree of Tamil Nadu and is highly respected. It is referred to as the celestial tree, or “karpaha” because every part of the tree can be utilized without exception. The tree is a natural symbol tree in Cambodia. It grows commonly all over the country and near the Angkor temple.
The tree is also quite common in Thailand, particularly the northeast Isaan province where it is common-place among the landscape.