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Caryota mitis Lour.
by Tan Kok Kiat
Newsletter
Caryota mitis Lour.
by Tan Kok Kiat

There are 14 accepted species of Caryota worldwide, distributed from tropical and subtropical Asia to Vanuatu. The genus Caryota is derived from the Greek word, caryon, meaning a nut. Malaysia has three native species, namely Caryota maxima, C. mitis and C. no. Caryota maxima, commonly known as the giant mountain fishtail palm, is a solitary, upright palm and is quite similar to C. mitis but the latter is a clustering, multi-stemmed palm. The epithet mitis in C. mitis is a Latin word meaning unarmed or harmless, in reference to its physical presence of an unarmed palm (National Park Board, 2013). Caryota no, known as the giant fishtail palm, is a fast-growing, large, solitary palm that is endemic to Borneo.

Caryota mitis is a slow-growing, understorey palm that can be found in India and Southeast Asia, including Malaysia. The natural habitat of this palm includes lowland rainforest, secondary forests and disturbed areas. It is known as beredin, dudok, ibul, pinang or tukas in Malay (Quattrocchi, 2012). It can grow up to 25 m in height (Abdullah, 1992). The stems are clustered and the leaves are bipinnate with triangular shaped leaflets and praemorse, jagged leaf tips as though bitten off, resembling a fishtail as a whole. Hence, its common name, the clustering fishtail palm. When this palm grows to about 3 m in height, flowering begins from the top, progressing down the stem. The inflorescences are spirally-arranged. After fruiting, the stem holding the inflorescence will die off and the next inflorescence below will bloom. This process is repeated until the whole plant eventually dies off. The colour of the flowers is cream or white. The tiny unisexual flowers are borne in groups of three, with two males and one female. When the round fruit matures, it will turn from green to dark red in colour (Abdullah, 1992). The fruits are sometimes eaten and dispersed by the common palm civet, Paradoxurus hermaphroditus (Zona & Henderson, 1989) and long-tailed macaque, Macaca fascicularis.

Sago can be obtained from the trunk of this clustering fishtail palm as the trunk contains starch. The leaves are eaten by animals. The seeds are edible if cooked (Quattrocchi, 2012). On the other hand, the fruit pulp and juice of this palm cannot be consumed by humans. This is because the pulp contains calcium oxalate crystals which cause irritation when in contact with the eyes, skin and mucous membranes (Abdullah, 1992). Burning and swelling of the lips, mouth, tongue and throat may occur. In the Malay Peninsula, the juice of the fruit when mixed with other materials like bamboo hairs and extract of toad, produces a deadly poison (Quattrocchi, 2012).

This palm is popular as an ornamental in gardens and along roadsides as it is able to thrive well under full sun as well as in shady locations (National Park Board, 2013). This palm is categorised as Least Concern as it has a very wide distribution and the current population around its native region is stable (BGCI & IUCN, 2018).

References

  1. Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) & IUCN SSC Global Tree Specialist Group. 2018. Caryota mitis. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Retrieved February 22, 2019, from http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T67533670A135889180.en
  2. National Parks Board, Singapore. 2013. Caryota mitis Lour. . Retrieved February 22, 2019, from http://florafaunaweb.nparks.gov.sg/special-pages/plant-detail.aspx?id=2607
  3. Quattrocchi, U. (2012). CRC World Dictionary of Plant Names: Common Names, Scientific Names, Eponyms, Synonyms, and Etymology, Volume 2. CRC Press, Florida, United States of America. pp. 806.
  4. Salam Abdullah, A. (1990). Poisonous plants of Malaysia. Tropical Press Sdn. Bhd., Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. pp. 68.
  5. Zona, S. & Henderson, A. (1989). A review of animal-mediated seed dispersal of palms. Selbyana 11: pp. 6-21
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