Multi Purpose Tree ? Sugar Palm

Palm family is unique in the aspect that most of its members have muli purpose benefits to the mankind, unrivalled by few other trees. There are several palm species such as Borassus, Areca, Sago, Fish Tail etc. Because of their beautiful structure, many of the palms adorn gardens.Though pal trees grow very tall, they can also be raised in home gardens or as dwarfs in pots.One of the most important palm trees is the Sugar palm.Botanically known as Borassus Flabellifer; it is widely distributed in the tropics such as India, Srilanka, South East Asia, New Guinea etc.

People from temperate regions are not much aware of this palm and hence are not privileged as people of tropics in appreciating the multi fold benefits of this palm. The tree grows upto 30 meters in height, with separate sexes. The female trees bear edible fruits of about 20 cm diameter.

Over a lifecycle starting from fruit to tree, the sugar palm or toddy palm provides six types of edible portions at different stages. The immature or unripe fruits contain 2-3 locules, and the locules contain a hydrolyzed carbohydrate which is very tasty. (Called 'munji' in Telugu language). On maturity the carbohydrates convert to hard starch and this starch is not edible. The locules are in hard shells, which are covered by fibrous material, and this fibrous material which was earlier greenish-whitish in color and tasteless, accumulates sugar and turns orange-red juicy fibres.

This sweet orange juice with characteristic flavor (fruit at this stage called 'tati pandu' in telugu), is mixed with flour and baked into cakes. If the ripened fruit is left untouched, the fruit falls to the ground and the seeds (or locules) generate a peg geotropically into the soil. The seed, which has hard starchy material, gets again hydrolyzed into sugars and takes the form of semi solid white mass (the seed on ground with peg into the soil at this stage is called 'burra gunju' in telugu). If this stage is not disturbed, the hydrolyzed starch gets transferred through the peg inside the soil and forms a cotyledon.

Once the transfer of sugars is complete, the cotyledon which measures 1-2 cm in thickness and 15-25 cm in length and of conical shape is again edible (this stage is called 'tega' in Telugu). If this stage is also not harmed, the cotyledon gives rise to a new palm. While the earlier edible stages namely munji, tati pandu, burra gunju and tega are derived from fruits, there are two other edibles that can be derived from the reserve material stored near the apical bud of the tree. The reserve material which sustains the growth of the tree and much helpful in reproductive stage, is very sweet and looks like a cylindrical white portion with several layers.

The inner the layer, the sweeter it is (this cylindrical sweet portion is called 'muvva' or 'movvu' in Telugu. The sixth edible derived is called the toddy ('kallu' in telugu) is derived from this apical bud, by making an incision. From this incision, the liquid food material that is part of the plant's translocation is tapped and this is an intoxicating and energy giving drink.

Apart from the edible uses, there are several other benefits which man has been using since time immemorial. The leaves are used for thatching and making mats. The leaf stalks have tough fibers, which are twined to make tough ropes for building of houses, boats, etc.The dried shells, leaf stalks are used as fuel. The trunks are used either as live poles in construction of thatch sheds, or as timber in replacement for wooden poles.The trunk of the tree is hollowed, and is directly used as a boat (called 'dhone' in telugu) for travel and fishing in many parts of the tropics.

Thus the Sugar Palm or Palmyra Palm or Toddy Palm is unrivalled even in the palm family, for the multi-fold benefits it offers in its life time at different stages.Apprecating this Indian's give it the status of 'son' for it takes care of them single handedly even in hard times.

Ravikumar Uppaluri hails from Kaikalur, Krishna District of Andhra Pradesh State in India.The famous Kolleru bird sancturay, a fresh water lake that attracts birds from as far as Siberia, is located near Kaikalur. Kolleru lake once vast , beautiful and sheltering scores of birds and other animals is on the verge of extinction. The author Holds a Masters degree in Agricultural Sciences and is cofounder of an organization involved in Nature conservation and sustainable development. The author can be reached at uravikumar@yahoo.com.

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