Although the palms are of limited use in the United States and other temperate areas, their economic importance in the tropical regions can exceed that of the grasses. Members of the family often furnish food, shelter, clothing, and other necessities of life for entire populations; an ancient Hindu song about the Palmyra palm (Borassus flabelliformis) of India enumerates 801 uses for the plant. Among the most important palms providing food and other products are the coconut, date, and sago. Palm sugar (jaggery) is obtained from the sap of several palms, e.g., species of Phoenix, Cocos, Arenga (in India), and Raphia (in Africa). Palm toddy, or wine, is made especially in Africa and Southeast Asia. Cabbage palm is a name applied to several species whose young heads of tender leaves are cooked as vegetables; these include the coconut palm, a royal palm (Roystonea oleracea), and the cabbage palmetto (Sabal palmetto). The fruit of the betel palm provides the world's most-used masticatory. Carnauba wax is obtained from a Brazilian species. Among the important palm fibers are raffia and rattan. Daemonorops draco yields dragon's blood, a resin. Another palm-fruit product, tagua, is used as a substitute for ivory.
Species native to the United States include the tall royal palm of Florida and Cuba (usually Roystonea regia in Florida) and the California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) of the Southwest and Mexico, much planted as an avenue ornamental. The palmetto palm is the characteristic underbrush plant of the SE United States.
The tallest palm is the Quindio wax palm (Ceroxylon quindiuense), which can reach 200 ft (61 m) in height and is found on cool Andean mountainsides in Colombia and N Peru at elevations of 6,500–10,000 ft (2,000–3,000 m). The largest known plant seed, enclosed in a fruit weighing up to 40 lb (18 kg), is borne by Lodoicea maldivica, a palm of the Seychelles, variously called the Seychelles nut palm, the coco-de-mer, or the double coconut. The talipot palm, Corypha umbraculifera, has leaf blades that may be up to 16 ft (4.9 m) across and the largest compound inflorescence, or flowerhead, in the plant kingdom.
The palm family is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Liliopsida, order Arecales.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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