Chapter 7:  Palms

The tropics and subtropics produce over 2500 species of palms.  Products from these trees furnish or augment the livelihood of millions of people.

A palm seed furnishes a stimulant used everyday by many people in Southeast Asia.

Palms feature in all the major religions of the world and the religions of primitive societies.  The Jews at the Feast of the Tabernacle used palm leaves, carried in procession, as they are by Christians today on Palm Sunday.  Hindus put their sacred writings on palm leaves as early as 4300 years ago.  The date palm, the sacred palm of the Arabs, is a symbol of Islam.

Before the introduction of synthetic materials in the 20th century, buttons, chess pieces, umbrella handles and countless knick-knacks were made from a palm seed called vegetable ivory. The tagua nut from South America, Phtelephas spp., and the doum palm from Africa, Hyphaene spp., furnished a "vegetable ivory" from which manufacturers produced buttons and curios.  With synthetic buttons replacing those made from vegetable ivory, conservation organizations have encouraged indigenous artisans to use the nuts to create carvings for the tourist trade. The varied sizes, textures, patterns and surfaces of palm seeds have afforded opportunities for artists and artisans to create beautiful carvings and interesting necklaces.