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Nypa fruticans Wurmb

Nypa fruticans Wurmb




Nipa fruticans Thunb., Cocos nypa Lour., Nipa litoralis Blanco.

Vernacular Names

Malaysia Nipah.
English Nipa palm, mangrove palm.
Indonesia Nipah (Indonesian), buyuk (Javanese), bobo (Moluccas).
Papua New Guinea Biri-biri (Koriki).
Philippines Nipa (Filipino), lasa (Tagalog), sasa (Bisaya, Ilokano, Bikol).
Burma (Myanmar  ) Dane.
Cambodia Cha:k.
Thailand Chak (General).
Vietnam D[uwf]a n[uw][ows]c, d[uwf]a l[as].
French Palmier d'eau, palmier nipa.

Geographical Distributions

Nypa fruticans is one of the oldest angiosperm plants and probably the oldest palm species. Eocene and miocene fossil findings in Europe, North America, the Middle East and the Paleocene strata in Brazil suggested that N. fruticans had a pantropical distribution in 13-63 million years ago. Today, it is mainly found in the equatorial zone, 10°N-10°S, stretching from Sri Lanka through Southeast Asia to North Australia. It was introduced to West Africa in the beginning of the 20th Century. The largest natural Nypa stands are found in Indonesia (700 000 ha), Papua New Guinea (500 000 ha) and the Philippines (8000 ha). The northernmost natural occurrence is on the Ryukyu Islands of Japan and the southernmost in North Australia. In Southeast Asia, N. fruticans is also cultivated.


N. fruticans is a large, creeping, unarmed, pleonanthic and monoecious palm. The stem is prostrate or subterranean (rhizome), measuring up to 45 cm in diametre, branching dichotomously at regular intervals, with curved leaf scars above, and roots along the underside.

The leaves are in tufts of 3-5 per plant, which are erect, measure 4.5-14.2 m long and simply pinnate. The petiole is very stout, measures up to 1.5 m long, adaxially channeled, distally cylindrical and dilated towards the base into a short sheath. The leaflets are up to 163 per leaf, linear, single-fold, measuring 1.2-1.5 m x 6.5-8.6 m, coriaceous and the midrib bears appressed brown scales on the lower surface.

The inflorescence is solitary, interfoliar, erect, branched, multibracteate, protogynous, measures up to 2.1 m long with a stout, cylindrical and with a peduncle measuring up to 2.4 m long. The rachis is usually shorter than the peduncle which is cylindrical, terminates in a spherical head of the female flowers that surrounded by numerous, short, catkin-like rachillas (spikes) which terminate the lateral branches and bear densely crowded, spirally arranged and with solitary male flowers. Most branches are subtended by large, tubular, rubbery bracts that protect the flowers and fruits. The male spikes are usually in pairs, cylindrical, often slightly curved and measure up to about 5 cm long. The flowers are extremely dimorphic but 6 perianth parts are similar for both sexes. The male flowers are with 3 stamens, where the filaments unite into a column and without pistillodes while the female flowers are without staminodes. There are 3 carpels (pistils) which are distinct, much longer than the perianth, irregularly polyhedric, curved and angled and with a funnel-shaped stylar opening.

The fruiting head is nearly spherical, measuring up to 40 cm in , fertile and partially develops fruits intermixed. The fruit is a drupe which is developed from 1 carpel, compressed and irregularly angled, pyramidal, measuring 10-15 cm x 6-8 cm, brown to blackish, with smooth exocarp, fibrous mesocarp, thick endocarp and composed of interwoven fibrous strands.

The seed is broadly ovoid, grooved adaxially, with a basal hilum and homogeneous endosperm. Germination is on the infructescence (viviparous), with the exserted plumule and pushing the fruit away. The eophyll is a bifid or with several leaflets.

Ecology / Cultivation

N. fruticans is a tropical plant. The average minimum temperature in its growing areas is 20°C and the maximum are between 32-35°C. Its optimum climate is sub-humid to humid with more than 100 mm rainfall per month throughout the year. N. fruticans thrives only in a brackish water environment. It is rarely seen directly on the seashore. Optimum conditions are when the base and the rhizome of the palm are regularly inundated by brackish water. For this reason, N. fruticans occupies estuarine tidal floodplains of rivers. The optimum salt concentration is 1-9 per mil. The N. fruticans swamp soils are muddy and rich in alluvial silt, clay and humus; they have a high content of various inorganic salts, calcium, and sulphides of iron and manganese, contributing to the typical odour and dark colour. The pH is around 5 and oxygen content is low with the exception of the topmost layers. Typically, N. fruticans forms pure stands, but in some areas it grows mixed with other mangrove trees. In the under storey, some Acanthus, Acrostichum and Crinum species are found.

Line Drawing / Photograph



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

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