Palm trees are plants that we know from southern countries. They usually have a tall stem from which the leaves have fallen off. There are only leaves at the top. The leaves look like fans or like bird feathers. Certain palm trees bear oleaginous fruits, coconuts, or dates.
Palm trees can be very different. For biologists, the palms form a family. It contains 183 genera and 2600 different species. Palm trees are frontrunners: The longest leaf in nature is a palm leaf with a length of 25 meters. The heaviest seed in the world also comes from a palm tree and weighs 22 kilograms. The longest flowering stem measures seven and a half meters and also grows on a palm tree.
Most palm trees are found in tropical rainforests, but also in places where there is less water. They also grow in the subtropics, for example around the Mediterranean. They exist all the way to the Alps, for example in Ticino in Switzerland. But they also grow in areas with a particularly warm climate north of the Alps, for example in the canton of Uri. The warm wind there, the foehn, makes their life possible.
How do palm trees grow?
Palm trees are very different. They can grow up to sixty meters high or stay very low. Some stand-alone, others in groups. Some bloom several times in their life, others only once, then they die.
Palm trees are not trees. Their trunk only gets thicker where it also grows in length, i.e. always at the top. It’s also not made out of real wood. It is therefore only said that the trunk is “lignified”. Palm trunks are always rather thin.
On a few palms, the flowers contain the male and female parts, as on our apples, peaches, and most berries and fruits. In most palm species, the flowers are male or female. This is taken advantage of in the date plantations: only two or three male palms are planted on a hundred female palms. Workers then climb a male palm tree and get the inflorescences. Then they climb onto the female plants and fertilize the flowers there.
Most palm trees need little fertilizer in the soil. That’s how it is in the jungle, but also in the desert. The palm trees in the rainforest endure a lot of water. The palm trees in the oases are content with less water. You don’t need rain. Groundwater is enough for them because they have very deep roots. There are even more of these species than the species in the wet areas.
What foods do palms provide?
About 100 species of palm trees bear edible fruit. We only know of two of them. We buy the dates with or without a stone and usually eat them that way, sometimes filled with marzipan or other things. The second is the coconut. You usually buy their pulp from us in dried and grated small pieces to bake something with. There are also many ready-made pastries with coconut flakes in them. You can also make coconut fat from the pulp, which we often use for frying. Margarine also often contains coconut fat.
The palmyra palm is much more common in the world. You can always cut off a thin slice from its male flowers and use it to squeeze a juice that contains a lot of sugar. You can boil it down and get a special sugar. You can also let the juice ferment to produce alcohol. This is a palm wine.
Palm oil is obtained from the oil palm. Its fruits are about five centimeters long and three centimeters thick. About half of the pulp consists of oil, which can be pressed out. That makes palm oil. The kernels also consist of about half oil, from which palm kernel oil is pressed. About twenty kilograms of fruit grow on a palm tree every year. Palm oil is a good thing in itself. No other crop can harvest as much oil from the same area. The problem is that huge rainforests are being cut down to create palm oil plantations. This happens most in Malaysia and Indonesia.
There are parts of the inside of the trunk at the top of the palm that can be eaten. They are called “palm hearts” or “palm hearts”. To do this, however, you have to cut down the palm tree, because it would no longer grow. Heart of palm is mainly obtained in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. You often win the palm hearts when the jungle is cleared.
What building materials do palm trees provide?
In many countries, houses are built by tribes. The inhabitants cover the roofs with the stalks of palm leaves. They keep the water out very well if you stack them up properly. In the past, in Europe, roofs were covered with straw or reeds in a very similar way.
The rattan palms provide thin shoots that can be braided very well. We know the rattan furniture from the shop. In the handicraft shop, the shoots are usually called “rattan canes”. You can use it to weave baskets, seats for chairs, or entire seating furniture. Since we don’t grow rattan palms, willow shoots used to be used. We used to take care of this tree for exactly this purpose.
What else are palm trees good for?
Palm trees are important for the soil. They hold the earth together with their roots. So neither wind nor rain can carry away the earth.
Palm trees remind us of vacations in the south, maybe that’s why people like them so much. Palm trees are therefore often planted in pots. You can then put them outside in the summer and move them to a warmer place in the winter. There are also palm species in pots that can be kept indoors all year round.