Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 60.djvu/409

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

the swarms of bees about some of the opening spathes suggest that some of them have agreeable odors. Kerchove de Denterghem in his book on palms states that some of the flowers have very pleasant odors toward evening and morning and cites four South American genera as odoriferous.[1] The spathes or envelopes that enclose the flowers of certain palms are not without interest and utility to mankind. For the most part these flower sheaths are thin woody envelopes that split as the flowers open and either fall off or curl up at the bases of the fronds. They are not all so inconspicuous, however. That of the Maximiliana regia is so large and hard and of such a shape that it is used occasionally for baby cradles. This spathe is often four feet long by two feet wide and has a thickness of an inch or

PSM V60 D409 The astrocaryum and the bactris.png

Fig. 17. Palm Nuts. The Astrocaryum is One Fourth the Natural Size; the Bactris is Natural Size.

more. The spathe of the ubussú is perhaps the most remarkable grown on any palm tree. It will be referred to again.

Fruits.—The fruits or nuts of the palms are usually rather small, but they range in size from that of the coco nut, which is perhaps the largest, down to the size of a small pea. Some of them have hard fibrous coatings, others are covered with a soft edible pulp; some of them are covered with short coarse hairs, some with spines, some with imbricated, reversed scales; some are fuzzy like a peach and still others are smooth like a plum; some of the clusters contain only two or three small nuts, while others form gigantic grape-like bunches larger than a single person could lift.

These fruits are extensively utilized for food both for man and for the lower animals: sometimes it is an external pulp that is eaten, sometimes it is the kernel; sometimes the pulp is used directly, often it is made into a beverage. Some of the fruits have a sweet pulp, but not a few have a pleasant subacid flavor, and several kinds are used to make vinegar.

  1. 'Les Palmiers; historie iconographique.' Par Oswald de Kerchove de Denterghem, Paris, 1878, p. 213.