Ethnobotany of Arecaceae

Palms (Arecaceae) are a large family of plants with about 2,500 species and are of economic importance to many countries and indigenous peoples of the tropics. They are found in the humid tropics and subtropics and are highly diverse in the Malesian and Neotropical regions but scarce in the African subcontinent. Palms are a major component of tropical ecosystems and occupy many diverse habits. They grow abundantly in wet lowlands, mangrove swamps, along river edges, in the under-storey of rainforests, in high mountainous regions and in secondary forests. They provide important food resources for animals living in these habitats. Indigenous peoples not only hunt these animals that feed on palms, they also use palms for their daily needs. Traditional uses of palms include: leaves for thatching, basketry and weaving, palm trunks for house construction, rattan for making furniture, palm fibers for strong twines, oil from coconuts and oil palms, fermented palm sap and fruits for alcoholic beverages, palm fruits and palm hearts for food, sago starch from the pith of the sago palm and for multiple medicinal purposes. This myriad of palm uses make them among the most exploited of plants on earth by humans.

The WLBC has put together a series of publications in Spanish on the use of palms among indigenous peoples of Peru and Bolivia. The first six books are now available in pdf format. Visit our books list for information and free download.