Borassus flabellifer L.


Borassus flabellifer L.




Borassus flabelliformis L.

Vernacular Names

Malaysia Lontar, tah, tai.
English Toddy palm, wine palm, palmyra palm.
Indonesia Lontar (General), tal (Java), siwalan (Sumatra), tala (Sulawesi).
Burma (Myanmar) Tan bin.
Cambodia Thnaôt.
Laos Ta:n.
Thailand Tan (General), tan-yai (Central), not (Southern).
Vietnam Th[oos]t n[oos]t, th[oos]t l[oos]t.
French Palmier à sucre, rônier, rondier.

Geographical Distributions

Borassus flabellifer is distributed from India through Southeast Asia to New Guinea and North Australia. It is particularly abundant in India, Burma (Myanmar) and Cambodia, where it is frequently planted. It is generally assumed that B. flabellifer is a selection by man from the more diverse B. aethiopum Mart. of Africa. Its distribution probably followed the Indian trade routes in pre-historic times.


B. flabellifer is a dioecious palm that can reach up to 25-40 m tall, robust, solitary and pleonanthic. Its stem is massive, straight and measuring up to 1 m in diametre at the base. The conical measuring up about 4 m high, cylindrical thereafter and measuring 40-50 cm in diametre. It is occasionally branched, covered by leaf bases when young, rough and ringed with the leaf scars when older and fringed at the base with a dense mass of long adventitious roots.

The leaves are (30-)40(-60), which are arranged spirally, leathery, induplicate and with a strongly costapalmate. The sheath opens when young and later with a wide triangular cleft at the petiole base. The petiole is woody, measures 60-120 cm long and furrowed deeply. The margins of sheath and petiole are armed with coarse and irregular teeth. The blade is suborbicular to flabellate, measuring 1-1.5 m in diametre, divided along adaxial folds to about a half its length into 60-80 regular and with stiff single-fold segments that measuring about 3 cm broad at the base.

The inflorescence is interfoliar, stalked and shorter than the leaves while the male and female are dissimilar. The male inflorescence is massive and measures up to 2 m long. It consists of about 8 partial inflorescences of three rachillae each. The rachilla is spike-like, fleshy, measures 30-45 cm long, bearing spirally arranged imbricate bracts, laterally connate and distally to form large pits where each contains about 30 flowers and exserted singly in succession from the pit mouth. The flowers are 3-merous with 6 stamens. The female inflorescence is unbranched or with a single first order branch and covered with the sheath-like bracts. The  rachilla is massive, fleshy, and thicker than the male one and bears large cupular bracts. The first few are empty while each subsequent ones subtend a single female flower with several empty bracts above the flowers. The flowers are larger than the male ones with 3-merous and tricarpellate.

The dark purple to black fruit is a spherical to nearly spherical drupe, measuring 15-20 cm in diametre and measures 1.5-2.5(-3) kg in weight. The petals are persistent and brittle but not imbricate.

The exocarp is smooth, thin and leathery. The mesocarp is thick, juicy, fibrous, fragrant and yellowish while the endocarp is usually comprises of 3 hard bony pyrenes. The pointed seed is shallowly to deeply bilobed.

The endosperm is sweet and gelatinous when immature, hard and ivory-like with a central cavity when mature.

Ecology / Cultivation

B. flabellifer is mainly cultivated in the drier parts of its geographical range, where the sugar palm (Arenga pinnata (Wurmb) Merrill) and the coconut (Cocos nucifera L.) cannot compete. It is usually grown in the strictly seasonal tropical or subtropical climates on sandy soils. It is a very adaptable palm, however, growing well in dry areas with 500-900 mm average annual rainfall and is quite drought resistant. It is also grows in per-humid areas with up to 5000 mm average annual rainfall and survives water logging quite well. Its optimum mean annual temperature is around 30°C, but it withstands extreme temperatures of 45°C and 0°C as well. It can be found on any kind of soil, preferring soils rich in organic material. It prefers altitudes around sea level, but can be found up to about 800 m altitude. B. flabellifer very often provide shelter to many animals (birds, bats, rats, squirrels, mongooses, monkeys) and plants (orchids, ferns and other epiphytes).

Line Drawing / Photograph


Read More

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  1. Plant Resources of South-East Asia No. 9: Plants yielding non-seed carbohydrates.