Areca catechu  L. Betel nut  - Arecaceae

The betel nut palm tree, Areca catechu, which is indigenous to Southeast Asia and parts of Africa, now grows throughout the tropical regions of the world.  Two-inch-long olive-shaped fruits are encased in an orange-reddish fibrous covering, which provides a fiber that can be made into twine.  Reddish-yellow seeds are about three-quarters of an inch long (5 cm.).

Since ancient times the seed from this palm has been a popular stimulant for the people of southern Asia.  The astringent kernel of the seed is chewed, fresh or cured, with lime and leaves of betel pepper.  Lime releases the alkaloids in the seeds, producing heavy salivation.  It is estimated that one-tenth of the world's population uses betel.  Frequent use blackens teeth, which is a mark of distinction in some cultures.

The earliest references to betel nut chewing are found in China, dating to 1000 B.C.  In India, where the tree is considered a sacred plant by the Hindus, the tree is likened to an arrow shot into the ground by God.  Guests may be offered a betel nut as a sign of welcome in Hindu homes.1 Rosaries and necklaces are made from the seeds of this and other species.