Palms with edible fruits, nuts or other edible parts
Everyone knows that dates and coconuts grow on palm trees, but did you know that there are many other types of plams that yield edible products? These have been largely ignored as food sources in Australian gardens.
Some links have been provided below to help you explore some of the species that are used for food internationally. As always, do some research before planting to ensure that it's suitable for the position and you have the ability to manage the plant and harvest the products. Apart from general size and climatic considerations, some palms have sharp spines, while falling coconuts can be lethal.
DNA holds coconut history
Analysis of coconuts from all over the world has revealed two distinct genetic groups, suggesting humans in the Pacific basin began cultivating coconuts quite independently of people in the the Indian Ocean basin. Meanwhile, the differing DNA of coconuts found, for example, on the east and west coasts of central America, reflects the patterns of trade and colonisation of the seafarers that brought them there. Read more at the Washington University in St. Louis website: Deep history of coconuts decoded (June 2011)
Older news items at bottom of the page.
Malay Green Dwarf
Dwarf Coconuts - Cocos nucifera
By El Meager
While the best known coconut palms are the tall varieties, they are unsuitable for backyards due to the overall size and the hazard of falling nuts. However, the slow growth and smaller overall proportions of dwarf varieties are now opening up possibilities for home gardeners to grow their own coconuts.
A dwarf coconut can fruit as early as 4 years of age and 160 fruits per year are common in good conditions.
Nias Yellow Dwarf
Malay Green Dwarf
They are high yielding, with a larger volume-to-husk ratio than the tall varieties, and fruits are sweeter due to higher sugar content. The Malayan Green Dwarf reputedly has the sweetest water for drinking.
Malay Golden Dwarf
Other varieties include the Spicata dwarf, which has stalk-less fruit, attached straight to the branches; the Village dwarfs, very compact and small enough to grow in containers; the Malayan Yellow dwarf with beautiful light flavoured fruits and the Giant Green dwarf with a full size crown, but compact trunk. Both the Malayan and Spicata dwarf come in various fruit colours such as Green, Golden, Red & Yellow.
Dwarf coconut palms are best planted below ground level to keep fruits low for a longer period of time and to encourage a deep, low root base, which increases stability. They don't form a large bole at the base of the trunk, making them less resistant to strong winds than the tall variety.
Red Spicata Dwarf
Good drainage is crucial. Sandy soils are generally preferred, but not essential if a good pit is dug. Prepare your pit by adding lots of rich, organic matter. There is no need to bury the coconut, just keep adding lots of mulch and water to the pit as the plant grows. Feed your palms regularly with a good quality fertiliser (8N:1P:16K or similar). Some shade for the first few years is also beneficial.
Dwarf coconut plants can also be grown for several years as an ornamental in a container. Even without fruit, they're highly decorative.
Dan & El Meager operate National Tropical Plants in Queensland, which supplies dwarf coconuts via mail order. To check availability, or just learn more about these fabulous multi-purpose plants, visit the nursery's website: National Tropical Plants
The following are for general information, research and ideas - some species or cultivars referred to in links may be unavailable in Australia. If you are looking for these unusual species, you'll probably have to seek out a specialist nursery. Check the Palms
page. Fruit tree specialists are another possible (but less likely) source. Check the Fruits and Nuts
Cocos nucifera (coconut)
Comprehensive overview of the species, cultivation and uses. Species Profiles for Pacific Island Agroforestry
(Coconut) Harold L. Lyon Arboretum Plant Profiles, University of Hawaii at Manoa
in: Insect Pollination Of Cultivated Crop Plants. Handbook available online at Agricultural Research Service, USA website (PDF)
) From "Fruits of Warm Climates" by Julia F. Morton, at the NewCROP website
From "Fruits of Warm Climates" by Julia F. Morton, at the NewCROP website
(peach palm, pejibaye) Ecocrop database, Food and Agriculture Organization
from Neglected Crops: 1492 from a Different Perspective"
Pindo Palm, Jelly Palm
) Online Manual of Subtropical Landscaping Plants, Palm Beach Community College, Florida
Lots of photos of palms, especially Butia
and hybrids. Photographer is apparently based in Southern Brazil
Non-wood forest products 10, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Discusses uses of various palm products around the world
Elaeis guineensis is the source of commercial "palm oil" which is widely used in processed foods and other products. Few home gardeners will be interested in growing this palm, but if you're looking for more information, a web search for that species is sure to return much information on this economically important crop.
Tall coconut palms present problems
A number of tall cocunut palms are to be removed from Bangara in the interests of public safety. Besides the danger of falling nuts, trees over 20m require a crane for maintenance, which is particularly dangerous when working with with flexible, swaying palm trunks. As the palms grow old, they're also prone to rotting and breakage. Source: Dangerous coconut palms to be removed (November 2009)
Tall coconut palms present problems at Bangara
A number of tall cocunut palms are to be removed from Bangara (Bundaberg region) in the interests of public safety. Besides the danger of falling nuts, trees over 20m require a crane for maintenance, which is particularly dangerous when working with with flexible, swaying palm trunks. As the palms grow old, they're also prone to rotting and breakage. Source: Dangerous coconut palms to be removed (November 2009)
A date with history
A Judean date palm has been grown from a seed found in the ruins of Masada, the Jewish fortress that fell to the Romans abround 2000 years ago. Believed to be the oldest seed ever to germinate, the resulting plant has been nicknamed Methuselah. Furthermore, it represents a previously extinct form of date palm, the fruit of which could have properties not present in modern dates. More from the American Association for the Advancement of Science: Researchers Resurrect Extinct Judean Date Palm Tree from 2,000-Year-Old Seed (June, 2008)