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Caryota species are the only palms with bipinnate leaves (meaning they are divided into leaflets that divide a second time). The ultimate leaflets have a characteristic shape, somewhat like the tail of a fish, leading to the popular English name of fishtail palm. The specific epithet urens is Latin for 'stinging' or 'burning', alluding to the oxalic acid crystals in the fruits, which are skin and membrane irritants.

Caryota urens (solitary fishtail palm)

[UNAL]

Bernal, R., G. Galeano, A. Rodríguez, H. Sarmiento y M. Gutiérrez. 2017. Nombres Comunes de las Plantas de Colombia. http://www.biovirtual.unal.edu.co/nombrescomunes/

Vernacular
cola de pescado, mariposa, palma cola de pescado, palma mariposa, palma mariposa grande

[CPLC]

Bernal, R., Gradstein, S.R. & Celis, M. (eds.). 2015. Catálogo de plantas y líquenes de Colombia. Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá. http://catalogoplantasdecolombia.unal.edu.co

Distribution
Cultivada en Colombia; Alt. 0 - 2600 m.
Morphology General Habit
Árbol, palma solitaria

[KSP]

Kew Species Profiles

General Description

Caryota species are the only palms with bipinnate leaves (meaning they are divided into leaflets that divide a second time). The ultimate leaflets have a characteristic shape, somewhat like the tail of a fish, leading to the popular English name of fishtail palm. The specific epithet urens is Latin for 'stinging' or 'burning', alluding to the oxalic acid crystals in the fruits, which are skin and membrane irritants.

Solitary fishtail palm is used in several ways: the sap is fermented into an alcoholic drink or boiled down to make syrup or sugar, the inner tissue is used as sago (food starch), and the leaves produce strong fibres that are made into ropes, brushes and baskets.

Species Profile
Geography and distribution

Widely distributed across India to Peninsular Malaysia, solitary fishtail palms grow in fields and rainforest clearings at up to 300 m above sea level. The exact origin of Caryota urens is uncertain, and populations outside India and Sri Lanka may be the result of early human introduction.

Description

Overview: A solitary-trunked palm, growing up to 12-20 m tall. The grey trunk is covered with widely-spaced leaf-scar rings.

Leaves: The leaves are bipinnate (divided into leaflets that divide again) with a terminal leaflet. They are bright to deep green, up to 3.5 m long and held on 60 cm long petioles (leaf stalks). Each leaflet is about 30 cm long with one pointed edge and one jagged edge.

Flowers: These palms only flower once in their lifetime and die after flowering. Unusually, flowering begins at the top of the trunk and proceeds downwards, sometimes for several years. The 3 m long inflorescences emerge at each leaf node, from top to bottom, producing pendent clusters of white, unisexual flowers. Flowers remain open on each inflorescence for about six weeks.

Fruits: The fruit matures to a round, red drupe (fruit with an outer fleshy part that surrounds a hard shell with a seed inside) about 1 cm wide and containing a single seed. Seeds are dispersed by animals such as fruit bats and palm civets. In Sri Lanka, fruits are eaten by polecats ( Paradoxurus hermaphroditus hermaphroditus ).

Threats and conservation

The major threat to solitary fishtail palm is disturbance, such as that resulting from logging and forest clearance for shifting cultivation. Overuse of solitary fishtail palm by humans has severely affected the process of natural regeneration, and in some parts of its distribution mature individuals are rarely seen. However, this palm is cultivated widely throughout its range on account of its usefulness.

Conservation assessments carried out at Kew

Caryota urens is being monitored as part of the IUCN Sampled Red List Index for Plants, which aims to produce conservation assessments for a representative sample of the world's plant species. This information will then be used to monitor trends in extinction risk and help focus conservation efforts where they are needed most.

Uses

Solitary fishtail palm is cultivated both for its products and as an ornamental. The trunk yields starch (sago), which is eaten in times of famine. Sap is tapped from the inflorescence and then fermented into an alcoholic drink (palm wine or toddy) or boiled down to make syrup or sugar (jaggery).

The stem apex (palm heart or palm cabbage) can be eaten when cooked. Seeds are sometimes chewed like the areca nut (the fruits of Areca catechu ).

The leaves produce strong fibres that are made into ropes, brushes and baskets. Kittal fibre (obtained from the fibrous vascular bundles of the leaf) is exported from Sri Lanka. The wood is also noted for its attractive appearance and strength.

This species at Kew

Caryota urens (and several other species of Caryota ) can be seen growing in the Palm House at Kew.

Dried and alcohol-preserved specimens of Caryota urens are held in Kew's Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. The details of some of these can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.

Specimens of solitary fishtail palm fibre, bark, seeds, wood, rope, starch, and sago, and a carved elephant made from the wood, are held in Kew's Economic Botany Collection, where they are available to researchers by appointment.

The botanical artist Marianne North depicted Caryota urens in her painting The Talipot Palm in Flower and Fruit, and Wine Palm in flower at Buitenzorg, Java , which can be seen in the Marianne North Gallery.

Uncovering the evolutionary history of palms

Molecular phylogenetic research at Kew has shown that the extraordinary bipinnate-leaved palm genus Caryota , and its relatives Wallichia and Arenga , are embedded within the fan-leaved palm subfamily Coryphoideae and are not part of subfamily Arecoideae as previously believed.

Distribution
India, Malaysia
Ecology
Rainforest clearings.
Conservation
Least Concern (LC) according to IUCN Red List criteria.
Hazards

Fruits of all Caryota species contain oxalic acid crystals, which are skin and membrane irritants.

[KSP]
Use
Food, beverage, fibre, timber, ornamental.

Native to:

India, Sri Lanka

Introduced into:

Andaman Is., Assam, Bangladesh, China South-Central, China Southeast, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Malaya, Myanmar, Nepal, Ogasawara-shoto, Puerto Rico, Trinidad-Tobago

English
Solitary fishtail palm

Caryota urens L. appears in other Kew resources:

Date Reference Identified As Barcode Type Status
29047.527
48358.000
Hooker [2220], India K000209314
Hooker [s.n.], India K000209318
illegible [5021], India K000209319
Hooker [s.n.], India K000209322
Hooker [s.n.], India K000209325
Nanayauasami [spelling?] [90], India K000209334
Lurkington, A.W. [s.n.], India K000209335
Gamble [16015], India K000209336
de Zoysa, N. [65], Sri Lanka K000209340
Saldanha, C.J. [14428], India K000209341
Clemens [3260], Vietnam K000209355
Wallis [s.n.], Philippines K000209362
Rutherford, S. [R190], Sri Lanka K000209366
Ridley [3513], Singapore K000462351
Cuming [915], Philippines K000209361
Nur [s.n.], Singapore K000209367
Hooker [s.n.], India K000209321
Hooker [s.n.], India K000209317
Poilane [P1003], Vietnam K000209354
Wight [2766], India K000209337
Parry, N.E. [590], India K000209327
Parry, N.E. [590], India K000209328
Cuming [915], Philippines K000209360
Hooker [872], India K000209315
illegible [s.n.], India K000209333
Grierson [3975], Bhutan K000209339
Hooker [s.n.], India K000209313
Parry, N.E. [830], India K000209329
Ritchie [753], India K000209316
Alston, A.H.G. [s.n.], Sri Lanka K000209365
Gamble [6763A], Bangladesh K000209332
Hooker [s.n.], India K000209324
Lace, J.H. [2882], Myanmar K000209330
Gamble [10779], India K000209338
Ridley [3513], Singapore K000462352
Gamble [1971A], India K000209323
Lace, J.H. [2882], Myanmar K000209331
Gamble [2429B], Bangladesh K000209326
Cuming [915], Philippines K000209359
unknown [Acc. No.543-59.54301] K000209363
Cultivated [Acc. No.1993-3523] K000209364
Venugopal, N. [15887], India K000209312
Cooke, A. [163], India K000209320
illegible [1714] K000462353

First published in Sp. Pl.: 1189 (1753)

Accepted by

  • Acevedo-Rodríguez, P. & Strong, M.T. (2012). Catalogue of seed plants of the West Indies Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 98: 1-1192.
  • Baksh-Comeau, Y., Maharaj, S.S., Adams, C.D., Harris, S.A., Filer, D.L. & Hawthorne, W.D. (2016). An annotated checklist of the vascular plants of Trinidad and Tobago with analysis of vegetation types and botanical 'hotspots' Phytotaxa 250: 1-431.
  • Balkrishna, A. (2018). Flora of Morni Hills (Research & Possibilities): 1-581. Divya Yoga Mandir Trust.
  • Govaerts, R. & Dransfield, J. (2005). World Checklist of Palms: 1-223. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Govaerts, R. (1999). World Checklist of Seed Plants 3(1, 2a & 2b): 1-1532. MIM, Deurne.
  • Henderson, A. (2009). Palms of Southern Asia: 1-197. Princeton university press, Princeton and Oxford.
  • Pandey, R.P. & Dilwakar, P.G. (2008). An integrated check-list flora of Andaman and Nicobar islands, India Journal of Economic and Taxonomic Botany 32: 403-500.
  • Stevens, W.D., Ulloa U., C., Pool, A. & Montiel, O.M. (2001). Flora de Nicaragua Monographs in Systematic Botany from the Missouri Botanical Garden 85: i-xlii, 1-2666.

Literature

Catálogo de Plantas y Líquenes de Colombia

  • ColPlantA (2021). "ColPlantA. Facilitated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Published on the Internet; http://www.colplanta.org/"

Kew Species Profiles

  • Baker, W. J., Savolainen, V., Asmussen-Lange, C. B., Chase, M. W., Dransfield, J., Forest, F., Harley, M. M., Uhl, N. W. & Wilkinson, M. (2009). Complete generic-level phylogenetic analyses of palms (Arecaceae) with comparisons of supertree and supermatrix approaches. Systematic Biology 58: 240–256.
  • De Zoysa, N. (1992). Tapping patterns of the kitul palm ( Caryota urens) in the Sinharaja area, Sri Lanka. Principes 36: 28–33.
  • Henderson, A. (2009). Palms of Southern Asia. Princeton University Press, Princeton.
  • Loftus, C. (2009). Caryota urens. Assessment using IUCN Categories and Criteria 3.1 (IUCN 2001). Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
  • Orwa, C., Mutua, A., Kindt, R., Jamnadass, R. & Simons, A. (2009). Agroforestree Database: a Tree Reference and Selection Guide, version 4.0.
  • Rai, T. & Rai, L. (1994). Trees of the Sikkim Himalaya. Indus Publishing, New Delhi.
  • Whitmore, T. C. (1998). Palms of Malaya. White Lotus Co. Ltd, Bangkok.
  • World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2010). Caryota urens. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Kew Backbone Distributions

  • Acevedo-Rodríguez, P. & Strong, M.T. (2012). Catalogue of seed plants of the West Indies Smithsonian Contributions to Botany 98: 1-1192.
  • Baksh-Comeau, Y., Maharaj, S.S., Adams, C.D., Harris, S.A., Filer, D.L. & Hawthorne, W.D. (2016). An annotated checklist of the vascular plants of Trinidad and Tobago with analysis of vegetation types and botanical 'hotspots' Phytotaxa 250: 1-431.
  • Pandey, R.P. & Dilwakar, P.G. (2008). An integrated check-list flora of Andaman and Nicobar islands, India Journal of Economic and Taxonomic Botany 32: 403-500.

Catálogo de Plantas y Líquenes de Colombia
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

Herbarium Catalogue Specimens

Kew Backbone Distributions
The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2021. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
© Copyright 2017 World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families 2021. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
© Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Kew Science Photographs
Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Kew Species Profiles
Kew Species Profiles
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

Palmweb - Palms of the World Online
Palmweb 2011. Palmweb: Palms of the World Online. Published on the internet http://www.palmweb.org. Accessed on 21/04/2013
Content licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

Universidad Nacional de Colombia
ColPlantA database
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0