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Arecaceae or Palmae (also known by the name Palmaceae, which is considered taxonomically invalid, or by the common name palm tree), the palm family, is a family of flowering plants, the only family in the monocot order Arecales. There are roughly 202 currently known genera with around 2600 species, most of which are restricted to tropical, subtropical, and warm temperate climates. Most palms are distinguished by their large, compound, evergreenleaves arranged at the top of an unbranched stem. However, many palms are exceptions to this statement, and palms in fact exhibit an enormous diversity in physical characteristics. As well as being morphologically diverse, palms also inhabit nearly every type of habitat within their range, from rainforests to deserts.
Palms are among the best known and extensively cultivated plant families. They have been important to humans throughout much of our history. Many common products and foods are derived from palms, and palms are also widely used in landscaping for their exotic appearance, making them one of the most economically important plants. In many historical cultures, palms were symbols for such ideas as victory, peace, and fertility. Today, palms remain a popular symbol for the tropics and vacations.
Whether as shrubs, trees, or vines, palms have two methods of growth: solitary or clusters. The common representation is that of a solitary shoot ending in a crown of leaves. This monopodial behavior may be exhibited by prostrate, trunkless, and trunk-forming members. Some common palms restricted to solitary growth include Washingtonia and Roystonea. Palms may instead grow in sparse to dense clusters. The trunk will develop an axillary bud at a leaf node, usually near the base, from which a new shoot emerges. The new shoot, in turn, produces an axillary bud and a clustering habit results. Exclusively sympodial genera include many of the rattans, Guihaia, and Rhapis. Several palm genera have both solitary and clustering members. Palms which are usually solitary may grow in clusters, and vice versa. These aberrations suggest that the habit operates on a single gene.
Palms have large evergreen leaves that are either palmately ('fan-leaved') or pinnately ('feather-leaved') compound and spirally arranged at the top of the stem. The leaves have a tubular sheath at the base that usually splits open on one side at maturity. The inflorescence is a panicle or spike surrounded by one or more bracts or spathes that become woody at maturity. The flowers are generally small and white, radially symmetric, and can be either uni- or bi-sexual. The sepals and petals usually number three each, and may be distinct or joined at the base. The stamens generally number six, with filaments that may be separate, attached to each other, or attached to the pistil at the base. The fruit is usually a single-seededdrupe, but some genera (e.g. Salacca) may contain two or more seeds in each fruit.
Arecaceae are notable among monocots for their height and for the size of their seeds, leaves, and inflorescences. Ceroxylon quindiuense, Colombia's national tree, is the tallest monocot in the world, reaching heights of 60 meters. The Coco de mer (Lodoicea maldivica) has the largest seeds of any plant, 40-50 centimeters in diameter and weighing 15–30 kilograms each. Raffia palms (Raphia spp.) have the largest leaves of any plant, up to 25 meters long and 3 meters wide. The Corypha species have the largest inflorescence of any plant, up to 7.5 meters tall and containing millions of small flowers.
Most palms grow in the tropics. They are abundant throughout the tropics, and thrive in almost every habitat therein. Their diversity is highest in wet, lowland tropical forests, especially in ecological "hotspots" such as Madagascar, which has more endemic palms than all of Africa. Colombia may have the highest number of palm species in one country.
Palms inhabit a variety of ecosystems. More than two thirds of palm species live in tropical forests, where some species grow tall enough to form part of the canopy and shorter ones form part of the understory. Some species form pure stands in areas with poor drainage or regular flooding, including Raphia hookeri which is common in coastal freshwater swamps in West Africa. Other palms live in tropical mountain habitats above 1000 meters, such as those in the genus Ceroxylon native to the Andes. Palms may also live in grasslands and scrublands, usually associated with a water source, and in desertoases such as the Date Palm. A few palms are adapted to extremely basiclime soils, while others are similarly adapted to very acidicserpentine soils.
Two Roystonea regia specimens in Kolkata, India. Note the characteristic crownshaft and apex shoot or 'spear'.
Palms are a monophyletic group of plants, meaning that the group consists of a common ancestor and all its descendants. Extensive taxonomic research on palms began with botanist H.E. Moore, who organized palms into fifteen major groups based mostly on general morphological characteristics. The following classification, proposed by N.W. Uhl and J. Dransfield in 1987, is a revision of Moore's classification that organizes palms into six subfamilies. A few general traits of each subfamily are listed.
Coryphoideae is the most diverse subfamily and is a paraphyletic group, meaning that all members of the group share a common ancestor but the group does not include all the ancestor's descendants. Most palms in this subfamily have palmately lobed leaves and solitary flowers with three, sometimes four carpels. The fruit normally develops from only one carpel. Subfamily Calamoideae includes the climbing palms such as rattans. The leaves are usually pinnate; derived characters (synapomorphies) include spines on various organs, organs specialized for climbing, an extension of the main stem of the leaf bearing reflexed spines, and overlapping scales covering the fruit and ovary. Subfamily Nypoideae contains only one genus and one species, Nypa fruticans, which has large pinnate leaves. The fruit is unusual in that it floats, and the stem is dichotomously branched, also unusual in palms. Subfamily Ceroxyloideae has small to medium-sized flowers that spirally arranged, with a gynoecium of three joined carpels. Arecoideae is the largest subfamily with six diverse tribes containing over 100 genera. All tribes have pinnate or bipinnate leaves and flowers arranged in groups of three, with a central pistillate and two staminate flowers. Phytelephantoideae is a monoecious subfamily. Members of this group have distinct monopodial flower clusters. Other distinct features include a gynoecium with five to ten joined carpels, and flowers with more than three parts per whorl. Fruits are multiseeded and have multiple parts.
Currently, few extensive phylogenetic studies of Arecaceae exist. In 1997, Baker et al. explored subfamily and tribe relationships using chloroplast DNA from 60 genera from all subfamilies and tribes. The results strongly showed that Calamoideae is monophyletic, and that Ceroxyloideae and Coryphoideae are paraphyletic. The relationships of Arecoideae are uncertain but it is possibly related to Ceroxyloideae and Phytelephantoideae. Studies have suggested that the lack of a fully resolved hypothesis for the relationships within the family is due to a variety of factors including difficulties in selecting appropriate outgroups, homoplasy in morphological character states, slow rates of molecular evolution important for the use of standard DNA markers, and character polarization. However, hybridization has been observed among Orbignya and Phoenix species, and using chloroplast DNA in cladistic studies may produce inaccurate results due to maternal inheritance of the chloroplast DNA. Chemical and molecular data from non-organelle DNA, for example, could be more effective for studying palm phylogeny.
Arecaceae is the first modern family of monocots that is clearly represented in the fossil record. Palms first appear in the fossil record around 80 million years ago, during the late Cretaceous Period. The first modern species, such as Nypa fruticans and Acrocomia aculeata, appeared 69-70 million years ago, confirmed by fossil Nypa pollen dated to 70 million years ago. Palms appear to have undergone an early period of adaptive radiation. By 60 million years ago, many of the modern, specialized genera of palms appeared and became widespread and common, much more widespread than their range today. Because palms separated from the monocots earlier than other families, they developed more intrafamilial specialization and diversity. By tracing back these diverse characteristics of palms to the basic structures of monocots, palms may be valuable in studying monocot evolution. Several species of palms have been identified from flowers preserved in amber including Palaeoraphe dominicana and Roystonea palaea.
Human use of palms is as old or older than human civilization itself, starting with the cultivation of the date palm by Mesopotamians and other Middle Eastern peoples 5000 years or more ago. Date wood, pits for storing dates, and other remains of the date palm have been found in Mesopotamian sites. The Date Palm had a tremendous effect on the history of the Middle East. W.H. Barreveld wrote:
"One could go as far as to say that, had the date palm not existed, the expansion of the human race into the hot and barren parts of the "old" world would have been much more restricted. The date palm not only provided a concentrated energy food, which could be easily stored and carried along on long journeys across the deserts, it also created a more amenable habitat for the people to live in by providing shade and protection from the desert winds (Fig. 1). In addition, the date palm also yielded a variety of products for use in agricultural production and for domestic utensils, and practically all parts of the palm had a useful purpose."
An indication of the importance of palms in ancient times is that they are mentioned more than 30 times in the Bible, and at least 22 times in the Quran.
Fruit of the Date Palm Phoenix dactylifera
Arecaceae has great economic importance including coconut products, oils, dates, palm syrup, ivory nuts, carnauba wax, rattan cane, raffia and palm wood.
Along with dates mentioned above, members of the Palm Family with human uses are numerous.
The type member of Arecaceae is the Areca palm, the fruit of which, the betel nut, is chewed with the betel leaf for intoxicating effects (Areca catechu).
Carnuba wax is harvested from the leaves of a Brazilian palm (Copernicia).
Coconut is the edible fruit of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera).
Coir is a coarse water-resistant fiber extracted from the outer shell of coconuts, used in doormats, brushes, mattresses, and ropes. In India, beekeepers use coir in their bee smokers.
Some indigenous groups living in palm-rich areas use palms to make many of their necessary items and food. Sago, for example, a starch made from the pith of the trunk of the sago palm Metroxylon sagu, is a major staple food for lowland peoples of New Guinea and the Moluccas. This is not the same plant commonly used as a house plant and called "sago palm."
Panama hats are woven from the leaves of the "Panama Hat" palm.
Palm wine is made from Jubaea also called Chilean wine palm, or coquito palm
Recently the fruit of the açaí palm Euterpe has been used for its reputed healthful benefits.
Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) is under investigation as a drug for treating enlarged prostates.
Palm leaves are also valuable to some peoples as a material for thatching, basketry, clothing, and in religious ceremonies (see "Symbolism" below).
Like many other plants, palms have been threatened by human intervention and exploitation. The greatest risk to palms is destruction of habitat, especially in the tropical forests, due to urbanization, wood-chipping, mining, and conversion to farmland. Palms rarely reproduce after such great changes in the habitat, and palms with a small habitat range are most vulnerable to them. The harvesting of heart of palm, a delicacy in salads, also poses a threat because it is derived from the palm's apical meristem, a vital part of the palm that cannot be regrown. The use of rattan palms in furniture has caused a major population decrease in these species that has negatively affected local and international markets as well as biodiversity in the area. The sale of seeds to nurseries and collectors is another threat, as the seeds of popular palms are sometimes harvested directly from the wild. At least 100 palm species are currently endangered, and nine species have reportedly recently become extinct.
However, several factors make palm conservation more difficult. Palms live in almost every type of habitat and have tremendous morphological diversity. Most palm seeds lose viability quickly, and they cannot be preserved in low temperatures because the cold kills the embryo. Using botanical gardens for conservation also presents problems, since they can only house a few plants of any species or truly imitate the natural setting. There is also the risk of cross-pollination, which leads to hybrid species.
The Palm Specialist Group of the World Conservation Union (IUCN) began in 1984 and has performed a series of three studies in order to find basic information on the status of palms in the wild, utilization of wild palms, and palms under cultivation. Two projects on palm conservation and utilization supported by the World Wildlife Fund took place from 1985–1990 and 1986–1991, in the American tropics and southeast Asia respectively. Both studies produced a large amount of new data and publications on palms. Preparation of a global action plan for palm conservation began in 1991, supported by the IUCN, and was published in 1996.
The palm branch was a symbol of triumph and victory in pre-Christian times. The Romans rewarded champions of the games and celebrated military successes with palm branches. Early Christians used the palm branch to symbolize the victory of the faithful over enemies of the soul, as in the Palm Sunday festival celebrating the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. In Judaism, the palm represents peace and plenty, and is one of the Four Species of Sukkot; the palm may also symbolize the Tree of Life in Kabbalah. Today, the palm, especially the coconut palm, remains a symbol of the stereotypical tropical island paradise. Palms appear on the flags and seals of several places where they are native, including those of Haiti, Guam, Saudi Arabia, Florida and South Carolina.
There are about 2,600 species of palm tree. Palms are well-known in warm climates. Most have a single trunk with large evergreen leaves at the top. Coconuts are the fruit of the coconut palm. Coconuts have many uses. Their white flesh is eaten and made into coconut milk and coconut oil. Other parts are used to make ropes, brushes, and charcoal.
Trees or shrubs. Leaves alternate, usually very large and in terminal rosettes, with a sheathing base; petiole or rhachis often prickly; lamina pinnate or costapalmate. Plants dioecious (in ours). Inflorescences axillary, simple to paniculate. Flowers usually small, unisexual or bisexual. Calyx and corolla usually in whorls of 3. Fruit usually a drupe; seed usually 1.
Foodplant / sap sucker hypophyllous, colonial Aspidioterus nerii sucks sap of live leaf of Arecaceae
In Great Britain and/or Ireland: Foodplant / saprobe loosely gregarious, immersed stroma of Cytospora coelomycetous anamorph of Cytospora palmarum is saprobic on dead leaf of Arecaceae Remarks: season: 4
Foodplant / spot causer Graphiola phoenicis causes spots on live, scabbed leaf of Arecaceae
Foodplant / sap sucker Myzus persicae sucks sap of Arecaceae
Foodplant / sap sucker Pseudococcus sucks sap of live green part of Arecaceae
Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats Specimen Records:2376 Specimens with Sequences:2517 Specimens with Barcodes:2078 Species:746 Species With Barcodes:736 Public Records:1941 Public Species:686 Public BINs:0