Palm trees exist in all the world's tropical and subtropical regions, with over 1,000 species to their credit. The coconut palm has found its home around the globe. It is similar to many other palm species, with its tall, straight trunk and 20-foot-long fronds that emerge from the top. Smaller palms include the Areca and the pygmy date palm---these and others are popular as houseplants in many climate zones.
The coconut palm has long been an important source of food for indigenous people who live in tropical areas. From coconut milk to coconut water, to the pulpy flesh of its large seed (or "nut"), the coconut palm gives the world numerous food items, and is one of the most common food exports from tropical countries. The Phoenix palms produce dates, which are a sweet drupe fruit. Heart of palm is a delicacy that comes from several species of South American palms, including Bactris gasipaes, which is native to Ecuador. The Thai sweet palm's seeds are used in a pastry called Kanom Look Tan. Other palms that produce food include the Peach palm, Pejibaye palm, African oil palm, saw palmetto, Amazonian starnut palm, Chilean wine palm, jelly palm and betel nut, which has a narcotic effect.
Palm oil from several species is used for both edible and cosmetic purposes. The African oil palm produces fruit from which oil is extracted for soaps, candies, candles and margarine. A nutritious oil similar to olive oil is extracted from the Pataua palm, which comes from Brazil. Other oil palms provide non-edible palm kernel oil, which is a frequent ingredient in soaps.
Palms Used as Houseplants
The windmill palm is a common houseplant because of its multiple tall, slender shoots that are topped with fronds in a windmill configuration. The Areca palm helps to introduce oxygen to indoor spaces and is an attractive, easy-care plant. Although date palms don't normally produce fruit when grown as houseplants, the pygmy date palm is popular for its lacy fronds and compact size. The sago palm is an unusual plant with a crown of delicate fern-like fronds.
Palms for Construction/Weaving
Many types of palms have been used for their strong wood and durable fronds. Fronds can be woven into baskets, floor mats, thatched roofs and clothing. Species that are commonly used for weaving and thatching include the mokola palm of Botswana, the Amazonian Pataua palm and the Raffia palm from Uganda. The wood of the doum palm, an Egyptian species, was commonly used for construction, and the wood of the Phoenix date palm was used for roof timbers. The coconut palm has been used for centuries for both weaving and construction throughout the tropical regions where it occurs.