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Palm Trees & Their Fruit

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Palm Trees & Their Fruit

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Overview

Two palms are world-famous for the fruits they produce: the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) and the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera). Few people (except those living in the tropics around many palms) realize that palms are flowering plants. Many of the flowering branches, called inflorescences, are large and ornate as they dangle among the green fronds. After pollination of the flower by insects or less frequently by the wind, palms produce dry to fleshy fruits that are varied in size and color according to plant species.

Function

As flowering plants, the fruits formed on palms serve as the means of the plant to sexually reproduce and create a seed. Whether encased in a sweet, fleshy fruit (like the date) or encased in a hard husk and shell (like the coconut), the embryo in the seed is protected by the fruit's flesh. The fruit itself may facilitate the dispersal of these seeds. Birds and other animals may consume the palm fruit and spread the seeds far from the mother plant in their excrement. Or, the fruit may be buoyant in water and allow the seed to float for considerable distance before reaching fertile soil for germination.

Palm Flowering

On the whole, palms (whether shrub-like or "trees" in habit) tend to produce their flowers in the warmth of spring or summer. In tropical areas, this correlates to either a wet or dry season with warm temperatures. According to Robert Riffle and Paul Craft, authors of "An Encyclopedia of Cultivated Palms," the palm flowers are small, always under an inch in size and occur in a large cluster (the inflorescence) that protrudes either from among the leaf fronds, on the upper nodes of trunks just under the leafy canopy or develop directly atop the palm's stem. Depending on palm species, some types produce a flower and the set fruit and then that particular stem/trunk dies--such as in the genus Corypha, often called talipot palms.

Fruit Characteristics

After an individual palm blossom is pollinated, the palm fruit develops. Thus, the same branching inflorescence remains on the palm and soon becomes filled with few to many fruits. The developing fruit clusters are quite attractive to behold, regardless of palm species. The look of the fruits does vary among the 2,500 different palm species in the world according to Riffle and Craft. Fruits can range from being smooth or covered in spines and scales. Skin color can be red, purple, orange, yellow, white, brown or black as well a multi-colored. The surface of the fruit can either be dry and hard or fleshy and soft. Most often there is only one seed in each palm fruit, but exceptions exist and can house as many as ten seeds. Interestingly, the largest seed in the world is produced on the Laodice palm (Lodoicea maldivica), native to the Seychelles.

Consumptive Uses

Palm tree fruits can provide nourishment to wildlife and humans alike according to W. P. Armstrong of Wayne's Word. Either the tasty flesh of the fruit can be consumed--such as dates or pejibaye palm "peaches"--or made into preserves, like pindo palm fruits. Some seeds, like those in coconut meal and milk, can also be eaten. Oil is extracted from some, such as African oil palm; and others, like Betel nut, are chewed merely for medically stimulating effects.

Plant Propagation

Horticulturists seeking to produce more palm plants for sale or use in the landscape encourage palms to flower. Sometimes man will facilitate pollination of palm flowers to ensure production of fruits with seeds that will germinate, or to create hybrid plants. Fruits are harvested and sown in warm moist soil for fast germination and production of new palms for sale.

Keywords: palm fruits, flowers on palms, palm seeds, Arecaceae

About this Author

James Burghardt has written for "The Public Garden," "Docent Educator," nonprofit newsletters and for horticultural databases, becoming a full-time writer in 2008. He's gardened and worked professionally at public and private gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. He has written articles for eHow and GardenGuides.

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