Popular Science Monthly/Volume 60/March 1902/The Palm Trees of Brazil
|THE PALM TREES OF BRAZIL.|
OF all the graceful, beautiful and bizarre plants that grow in the tropics none are more graceful and none give such character to tropical vegetation as do the palms. Varied in form and size, adapting themselves to a wide range of elevation, sweeping up from the sandy shores of the sea across marshes, flood-plains and well-watered forests, over barren and thirsty deserts to the slopes of lofty mountains, they are, above all plants, the ones that give character and picturesqueness to every tropical landscape. And there is no place in the world where one finds a greater number of species of palms or where they grow more abundantly or more luxuriantly than they do in Brazil, and above all, in the valley of the Amazonas.
No good word is needed for the grace and stately beauty of palm trees. Those of us who live in the temperate regions already appreciate these ornamental plants to such an extent that there is now an established business in the manufacture of artificial palms for decorative purposes, to say nothing of their extensive cultivation by gardeners and seedsmen. As useful plants in other ways we know, as a rule, but little about them. In their native tropics palms are better thought of; the people fully appreciate them as ornamental plants, especially for large landscape effects. This is well shown in the use of the royal palms in Brazil. One of the most impressive sights in the sightly city of Rio de Janeiro is the avenue of royal palms at the Botanical Gardens. It is impossible to convey an idea of the grandeur of these enormous trees with their trunks as round and smooth as if they had been turned on a lathe, tapering from base to summit and crowned by clusters of plumy fronds more than a hundred feet from the ground. I do not know just how old these trees are, but a hundred years or so, 1 have been told; nor how tall they are, but that one can see for himself; and the height is certainly impressive. The kind of palms forming this particular avenue (Oreodoxa oleracea) has been extensively planted in parks and in public and large private grounds since the stately groups at the Botanical Gardens came to be appreciated more than half a century ago. To-day these trees are to be seen in most of the capitals and larger cities all over Brazil.
But the Brazilians think of palms more seriously as useful in other ways than as landscape ornaments. Indeed, to the traveler in the interior of Brazil, one of the most striking things about palms is the great number of uses to which they are put, uses extending to all parts of the plant. It is a matter of great importance in the tropics that plants bear their fruits and yield their other products with but little or no labor on the part of man, and this the palms all do. To mention all their uses in a short article is quite impossible. It is said of the coco palm, for instance, that it has a use for every day in the year, and whether this be true or not, it is near enough the truth to illustrate the point; and it is no extravagant statement of its virtues. Out of more than a hundred species of Brazilian palms upon which I made notes there is hardly one that has not some special and important use.
To the casual observer it might appear that palms are plants of such marked characters that there would be no difficulty in distinguishing the species. At least that was my own impression when I first walked through an Amazonian forest and observed the apparently wide differences between them. But as one's acquaintance with palms widens he finds them to be very like other organisms in their similarities and dissimilarities.
The Palm Trunk.—Palms vary enormously in size, shape, habit and habitat. The largest are the royal palms which reach a height of nearly two hundred feet with a perfectly straight, smooth and symmetrically tapering trunk over a meter in diameter at the base. The smallest are the Geonomas and certain species of Bactris, slender delicate plants but little more than a meter in height, with a trunk not larger than an ordinary lead pencil. Still others have no trunks at all above the ground, but the leaves and fruits rise from a short stock concealed beneath the soil very like a bulb.
The jacitára (Desmoncus) has a trunk the size of a man's finger and a length of a hundred feet or more, a form that is unable to stand erect, but sprawls or clambers over other plants like a vine. Some palm trunks are smooth while others are thickly covered with repulsive spines often of enormous size, and still others are clothed with mats of long tough fiber resembling masses of tangled and broken twine.
Certain species have trunks of uneven size, swollen here or there. These bellied palms, as they are called in Brazil, usually have the swollen part at some fixed place in the trunk. This is true of the paxiuba barriguda (Iriartea ventricosa) and of the Acrocomia, but at Assuncion, Paraguay, I found the swollen portions of the trunk of a palm locally called Bocadjá now near the base and now near the summit and another time near the middle. Some palm trunks are as smooth as if tooled, others, like the coco, are more or less ribbed. These ribs run round the trunk, and on some trees they are so close together that the whole trunk is notched with them. The ribs are really only leaf scars.
and on some species they are so far apart that the stems appear to be jointed like a bamboo. The ribbed trunks and smooth trunks, however, are noticeable only on palms that shed their fronds freely after they mature. In some cases the petiole breaks off two or three feet from the trunk, leaving it bristling with the jagged stumps of the petioles. In the accompanying illustration of the jupaty it will be seen that both conditions sometimes prevail with the same species.
Some trunks are thickly covered with spines. These spines vary in size from a few millimeters to half a meter in length. They seldom grow on the leaf scars, but usually cover the spaces between them.
Palm trunks may be either straight or crooked, but the habit of a species in this respect is pretty constant. For instance, the royal palm Fig. 3. Iriartea ventricosa, a Bellied Palm (After Wallace). always has a straight trunk; the clambering species never have the trunk straight, and the full-grown coco palms have the trunk somewhat crooked. A singularity of the growth of palm trunks is that, with the exception of the 'bellied' trunks, they attain their full diameter while quite young—before, indeed, they set out to grow upwards. In other words, a palm grows endwise, as it were, but does not grow in diameter like the exogenous plants. It is therefore necessary that a palm should start on a broad base if it is to reach great height and great size. For this reason many of them when young look as if their fronds were growing from the top of a gigantic turnip-like stock. In some species as a trunk grows older it constantly strengthens its foundations by putting out rootlets just above the uppermost ones, very much like those starting from the lower joints of a cornstalk, and these roots continue to put forth until a compact and exceedingly tough support is built up about the trunk. In the paxiuba palm this buttress is one of the strange sights of the vegetable world. Fig. 4. Variations in the Form of the Trunk of Bocadja, Asuncion, Paraguay. Fig. 7 shows the remarkable rooting of the paxiuba (Iriartia exorrhiga). At the lower left side of the plate the details of one of these trunks are shown. These palms seem literally to be off the earth, for the trunk proper can scarcely be said to touch it. The figure in the upper left hand corner shows how the young paxiuba gets its start
After the nut sprouts from the ground a rootlet starts from the young trunk a few inches above the soil and grows downward to the earth; then another and another starts out a little higher up, each growing down into the ground. As the tree increases Fig. 5. The Spiny Trunk of a Bactris. in size these roots continue to grow outward and downward always at an angle that will most effectively brace the trunk. I have seen the roots starting from the trunk seven and a half feet from the ground.
Structure of the Trunk.—The structure of the palm trunk is always the same in that it is made of fibro-vascular or horny bundles and parenchyma or pith; as a rule, too, the horny bundles are grouped together near the surface of the trunk, while the central portion holds most of the pith. Seen in cross-section the palm trunk is very like the stalk of the Indian corn. There is, however, a marked variation among palms in the direction of these bundles through the stems, for in some they ascend the trunk in a vertical plane while in others they take a spiral direction, not keeping parallel with each other but crossing one another in a bewildering maze. As these hard bundles are what give strength and resistance to the palm trunk, it will be seen that the possibility of splitting some of the trunks must depend upon the direction of the fibro-vascular bundles. In the Iriartia or paxiuba the fibro-vascular bundles lie in a vertical plane and are parallel, so that a section of the trunk of this palm splits with ease, and for this reason it is extensively used for umbrella handles, walking canes and such like purposes. Some of the palm woods admit of a beautiful polish, Fig. 6. The Roots of an Ordinary Palm. and, in these cases, the winding directions of the bundles cause them to be cut off at various angles and render the ornamental pieces made of them very beautiful. The fibro-vascular bundles vary greatly in color in the different palm trunks, some of them being nearly white, others amber-colored, others black and still others dark brown; most of them have a waxy, horn-like luster, and all of them are, when mature, exceedingly hard.The purely mechanical office which these fibro-vascular bundles perform is necessarily of the utmost importance in giving character and form to the trunk. They extend also from the trunks out into
the fronds to their very tips. When the size of the leaves of some of the Amazonian palms is recalled—as large as a man can carry—it will be recognized that these bundles must be very strong. Fig. 8. Cross Section of a Palm Trunk showing the usual Arrangement of the Fibro-vascular Bundles. The fibro-vascular bundles pass out from the palm trunk into the fronds. In Gray's text-book of botany a short longitudinal section of a palm trunk is shown, in which these bundles are represented as coming to the surface very much at random. As a matter of fact they reach the surface only at the leaf scars.
The most important use to which palm trunks are fig. 8. Cross section put is probably the manufacture of rattan or 'cane' used to bottom chairs. The rattan palm (Calamus) does not grow in Brazil, but the Jacitara and Urumbámba (Desmoncus) are palms of similar habits, Fig. 9. Section of a Palm Trunk showing the Relation of the Fibro-vascular Bundles to the Frond Basks.though they do not seem to lend themselves to this sort of use as readily as the Calamus.
Foliage.—The foliage of the trunked palm, unlike that of most plants, is all at the summit of the single stem.
The fronds of most of them form a compact symmetrical cluster, but there is one kind of bacába (Oenocarpus distichus) that has its fronds arranged in a single plane like a gigantic open fan.
The gracefulness of palms is mostly due to the symmetry of the plants combined with the flexibility of the fronds and leaflets. In the length and size of their leaves many of the palms surpass all other forms of vegetation. In detail the foliage varies quite as much as do the trunks. The palmate leaf from which the 'palm leaf fans' are made is familiar to every one. Some of the palmate leaves, however, reach an almost incredible size. The great murity of the Amazonas region often has its palmate leaves so large that a man, unaided, cannot lift a single leaf. The palmate leaves are entire, as a rule, but there is at least one species that has the leaf deeply bifid or split down the middle into two equal parts. The ubussá (Manicaria saccifera) of the lower Amazons has a kind of frond found, I believe, in no other palm; its leaf in general outline is like that of a pinnate leaf—say like that of the coco or date palm—but, instead of being divided, like the pinnate frond, it is entire.
Most of the palms have the pinnate or feather-like leaves. There might seem to be but little opportunity for variation in such fronds, but the variation is really very great, although at first sight it is not striking. Perhaps the largest of the pinnate fronds are those of the
conditions so that the whole plant is dwarfed. The above remarks apply to a frond or rather to the midrib of a palm when looked at in cross-section. When considered in cross-section the plumose fronds vary in a striking manner. The leaflets are arranged upon the midrib so that they may be in two rows or in four or six or more rows—half on one
side and half on the opposite side of the petiole. Seen in cross-section these latter take on one of the forms shown in the following diagram or one of many other combinations. These differences between fronds depend to a great extent on the manner in which the leaflets are attached to the midrib. For example, the leaflets may lie in a single plane growing straight out from the opposite sides of the midrib or they may lie in two, four, six or eight planes that meet along the midrib.
The fronds have, in addition to these peculiarities, certain habits due to the shapes of the midrib. A midrib that is broad at the base and continues relatively broad to the end is compelled to remain, as to cross-section, in a horizontal position; but if a midrib is broad at the base and gets rapidly narrower toward the end it cannot maintain itself in a horizontal position, but twists a fourth of the way round and at the end lies on edge. Sometimes this twisting goes to such an extent that the frond is quite inverted. The cross-sections of the midribs of palm fronds are characteristics to which but little attention seems to have been given by botanists.Every palm leaf begins its life at the apex of the trunk—the newest
and uppermost of all the leaves—and ends its life as the lowest in the cluster. The shape and size of the cluster of leaves vary somewhat with the age of the tree, but some species differ greatly from others in this respect. Species like the assai, the palmito and the royal palm have long petioles folding completely around the trunk, and shed the lowest leaves as fast as these leaves pass maturity. The clusters of fronds upon palms of this kind are always fresh looking, for they never have dead fronds dangling against their trunks. (See Fig. 1.) Certain other species have the habit of retaining the dead or half-dead fronds for a certain length of time, and these fronds, as they get older, bend downward more and more until they lie against the trunk of the tree. Such palms have nearly round clusters of fronds. The great forests of carnaúba or carandá palms along the Paraguay river look like forests of gigantic clover blossoms growing on straight stems.
The fronds of palms are extensively used by the lower classes in the tropical parts of South America for thatching their houses. Along the seashores, where the coco palms are grown, the leaves are cut as regularly as the nuts, and are used for covering the roofs and often for making the walls of the humble homes of the fishermen. In the Amazonas valley the entire leaves of the ubussú are best adapted to thatching; for this purpose they are frequently carried a hundred miles or more in canoes.
The young leaflets of palms are widely used in the manufacture of certain kinds of cheap straw hats. The leaflets of the tucúm palm yield an excellent fiber—one of the strongest known.
On account of certain peculiarities of its leaves I may here mention the jacitára (Desmoncus), the long, slender, clambering or sprawling palm already spoken of. The jacitára is not precisely a climbing palm but it comes as near to it as a palm can come. Its full-grown stem is hardly larger than a lead pencil but it reaches a length of a hundred feet or more, and it is therefore impossible for it to stand upright. Shortly after it starts from the ground it topples over and rests against whatever happens to be at hand. It has no tendrils and does not wind about its supports, but the structure and habits of its fronds contribute effectively to its ability to support itself against or upon its neighbors.
The accompanying illustration (Fig. 14) shows the growing end of one of these clambering palms, and beside it is shown the structure of the tips of the fronds. The recurved hooks at the frond tip are quite stiff and are fastened to the midrib with thickened inflexible joints. In the unopened or embryonic fronds the leaflets all point forward toward the tip or external end of the leaf. At the end of these undeveloped leaves are three or four pairs of leaflets, which, like all the rest, point forward. When the frond unfolds, the terminal pairs of leaflets, instead of developing as leaflets, turn gradually backward, thicken and stiffen at the base and thus form three or four pairs of hooks by which the plant is drawn slightly forward and supported by whatever other plant these hooks happen to seize.
Jacitára bears bunches of small nuts about the size of ordinary grapes, but, so far as I know, they are not utilized. The trunks are used in some parts of South America as withes for binding together the poles of which fences and some houses are built, and likewise for chair bottoms and baskets. When the jacitára grows in the deep dark Fig. 15. A Piassába Frond with its Fibers. forests, its trunk reaches a great length. In the southern part of the State of Bahia it grows upon open prairies where it has to depend upon itself for support. Here it grows in thick clusters, and does not reach a length of more than ten or fifteen feet.
Palm Fibers.—One of the most useful products of palms is their fiber. In his excellent work on fiber-producing plants Mr. Dodge mentions fifty-six palms that yield valuable fibers. Most of the fibers furnished by palms come from growths along the sides of the petioles near their bases, where they look like frazzled edges of burlap or some other coarse cloth. These fibers, however, are produced in quantity by certain species only.
The most remarkable of the fiber-producers is the piassába palm (Leopoldina) of which there are two species—one grows on the dark water tributaries of Rio Negro in the Amazon valley, the other grows not far from the seacoast north of the city of Bahia and also in the interior of the southern part of the State of Bahia and in Minas. At both places the piassába fiber is an important article of commerce, A palm draped with the fluffy mass of dark-brown fiber is a remarkable sight. The fibers are sometimes from ten to fifteen feet in length and look like very coarse hair or a tangled mass of brown twine, streaming down the trunk of the tree.
After being cut these fibers have to be dried and baled, they are then shipped to Europe and to the United States, where they are extensively used under the name of 'bast' for the manufacture of small baskets, stiff brushes, street brooms and foot-wipers. In the Amazonas valley they are used for making large cables which have the virtue of floating on the water. The hard stony nut of the Bahia piassába is used for the manufacture of buttons.
The stiff parts of the fibers of some palms are used by the native Indians to make combs. The tucúm is much used along the coast in the manufacture of fishing nets and fishing lines. It is extracted by scraping away the fleshy part of the leaflet with a dull knife. The tucúm palms are abundant in the Amazonas valley and in the forest
covered parts of Brazil as far south as the State of Espirito Santo, and possibly further. The abundance of the plants and the remarkable strength of the fiber seem to make it possible to turn the plant to more extensive use.
Flowers.—The flowers of palm trees are very short-lived, and are therefore not available for ornamental purposes. A newly-opened spathe, however, especially of the large trees, is an impressive sight. I have never observed any marked odors about the flowers of palms, but 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. 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
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.
The fruits of palms with which people of the temperate regions are best acquainted are dates and coco nuts. But these particular fruits are known chiefly because, besides being available as fruits, they are capable of being transported long distances and of being readily kept for a long time without danger of decay. In their native tropical countries many other palms yield valuable fruits but they do not, as a rule, admit of transportation or delay in using.
In the Amazonas valley especially, the inhabitants make a delightful beverage, known as assaí, from the fruit of the assaí palm (Euterpe oleracea). A stranger visiting the market in Pará for the first time is impressed by the quantities of this thick, purple, chocolate-like fluid on sale. In appearance it is rather repulsive at first, but it improves greatly upon acquaintance. From the fruit of the baccába palm is made a beverage very like that of the assaí. A similar drink, but of a milky color, is made of the fruit of the piassába on the upper Rio
Negro. A drink is make from the mirity palm in quite a different manner: the tree is cut down and a hole cut in the upper side of the prostrate trunk. This opening soon fills with a nearly transparent liquid very like the milk of the coco nut. When allowed to stand and ferment this makes the murity wine—an intoxicating beverage. Along the coast south of Pernambuco, and especially in the State of Bahia, is a palm, known as the dendé, the pulp of whose fruit is used in making oil that is extensively used in cooking. This oil has a bright orange color and is prepared by bruising the pulp of the nuts, putting it in cold water and skimming off the oil as it rises to the surface, after which it is boiled down. Illuminating oil is likewise made from the kernel of the dendé nuts.Many of the palm nuts are covered by edible pulp. Several species of Bactris bear fruits the size of a walnut whose acid pulp is very pleasant when ripe. In the Amazonas valley is a palm known as the
peach palm on account of its pulpy fruit. In the highlands of Brazil a small palm, a species of coco, known as the 'chifre do boi' or 'oxhorn' has a nut about the size and shape of a nutmeg. There is but little hull or flesh on the outside of it, but it is thick, black and very hard—almost impossible to crack. These pits are utilized by jewelers to make brooches, pendants and such like ornaments. For these purposes they are carved into attractive shapes, usually flower-like, mounted in gold and set with diamonds. The jewelers of Diamantina, in the State of Minas Geraes, are very skilful in the manufacture of this kind of jewelry.
Urucury Nuts.—One of the most peculiar uses to Fig. 22. Nuts of the Urucury used for the smoking of rubber. which a plant fruit is put is in the preparation of rubber in the valley of the Amazonas. It is the nut of a particular species that is used for this purpose—that of the urucury (Attalea excelsa). When the milk of the rubber tree is gathered it is consistency of thick cream. It is prepared for the market by being dried in the smoke of a fire made of the nuts of the urucury palm. A flat paddle-shaped board is wet in the milk and then held over the smoke as it issues from the top of a chimney-pot-like tile a foot or so in height, resting upon stones and with the fire built beneath it. The nuts of this palm are often carried long distances for this rubber smoking.
Many of the palm nuts yield rich oils, and these are used to a greater or less extent, especially in the interior, in cooking, in the manufacture of soap and for illuminating purposes.
Special Gases.—The carnaúba palm (Copernicia cerifera. Mart.) grows naturally on the marshy uplands of northeastern Brazil, where it is put to many uses by the natives. The trunk is split for rafters, posts and fences; the leaves are used for food for cattle, for thatch, for cordage and for hats; the fruits and the growing bud are eaten; the roots are used for medicinal purposes, and from the leaves is prepared a yellowish wax that is used for candles, The same palm is abundant through the Gran Chaco region of the Rio Paraguay, where it forms immense open forests that stretch as far as the eye can reach across the vast marshy meadows. In that part of the continent it is not so extensively used, but it is nevertheless one of the chief building timbers of that region, and its fruits are eaten by the natives, the tender phylophore is eaten as a vegetable, while the leaves are used for thatch, for fans, straw hats and cordage. This carnaúba, or carandá, ac it is called in the upper Paraguay region, is one of a few social palms.
The Coco.—The coco palm (or cocoa as we erroneously call it) is not a native of South America, but it is extensively grown, especially along the sandy seashore from Caravellas, Bahia, northward. From Caravellas to the mouth of the Amazon, a distance of about two thousand miles, probably half the way the beach is flat and sandy and is actually used for growing coco palms. And it is worthy of note that these sandy beaches are of little or no value for other agricultural purposes. Almost everywhere these coco-palm groves are thickly though not conspicuously inhabited. The villages and even towns of considerable size that spring up in the groves are made up for the most part of people of the poorer classes who pass here an ideal tropical life. The posts and lath of the houses are made of the palm trunks, the roofs are made of the leaves, their food and drink are taken from the inside coco shells; the nuts are eaten green and ripe in a great variety of dishes, oil is made from them, the outside hulls are used for scouring and for fiber utilized in many ways, the bases of the fronds and the hulls are used for firewood, the trunks are used for skids for drawing their jangadas from the water, and the leaves are used for thatching the houses and for torches at night.
One of the Brazilian methods of using the coco nut in cooking is well worthy the attention of caterers. I refer to the use of the ripe nut in preparing codfish à la crème. To make this dish the codfish is prepared in the usual way, except that the juice of the coco nut is used to flavor it. The ripe nut is grated on a piece of rough tin made like a large nutmeg grater; the milk is then squeezed from the grated nut, the dry fibrous material is rejected and the white rich milk is poured in the cooking fish, furnishing both the oil and a delicious flavor for the dish.
It is somewhat remarkable that 'coprah,' the dried kernel of the coco, is not prepared in Brazil. The reason probably is that there has always been a home market for the nuts.
The young coco trees begin to bear when six or seven years old and yield fruits for more than eighty years. It is said that a coco palm yields more than two hundred nuts a year —a statement which I feel obliged to accept with allowances.
In speaking of the foods furnished by the palm, I am reminded to mention an instance where a portion of the trunk is thus used. One palmetto is known in English as the 'cabbage palm' because the tender phylophore, or growing end of the trunk, is extensively eaten in Brazil as a vegetable, very much as cabbage is eaten. In the forests near the large cities these palmettos have been almost destroyed owing to the demand for them in the vegetable markets. I am of the opinion that many of the palms could be utilized in the same manner, and it may be that they are so used among the native aboriginal races. The using of these stems for food is open to the evident objection that once the growing bud is cut off the tree is destroyed.
The Ubussú.—One of the strangest palms in the world is what is known in the Amazonas valley as the ubussú, the Manicaria saccifera of botanists. This palm is one of a few having an entire leaf.Every one is familiar with the fact that the leaves or fronds of palms are, in general, either palmate or pinnate. Our common Florida palms, for instance, have the fronds palmate or radiating from the outer end of a petiole; in the pinnate fronds there is a long midrib or petiole running the length of the frond and along two sides of this the leaflets are arranged.
Now the fronds of the ubussú palm are not like either of these, but stand out from the trunk and behave in every way like pinnate fronds except that instead of being pinnate they are entire. The wind often whips these leaves in pieces, until they bear some resemblance to the pinnate fronds.
It is an interesting fact that those palms whose fronds are pinnate at maturity have their first fronds entire. The coco palms, for instance, have pinnate fronds, but when a young coco palm is sprouted its first leaves are entire like those of the ubussú; so far as I can now recall them, the same thing is true of all other palms having pinnate leaves. With the ubussú; this embryonic character has persisted into maturity. It is this undivided leaf that is so extensively sought and used for thatching houses. Besides being entire the ubussú; leaves are said to last for ten years as thatch.
Another interesting and peculiar character of the ubussú; palm is its spathe or flower sheath. Some of the palms have the spathes so hard and woody that they are as stiff as if they were made of inch boards; others have them rather leathery, and after the flowers open the spathes shrivel up more or less or hang among the fruits and flowers like rolls of brown or black cardboard. The spathe of the ubussú; is a slender, sharp-pointed and open-textured net or sack, not unlike a piece of burlap. In most palms the spathe yields but little, and when the flowers are ready to open it splits lengthwise and the flowers push out through the rent. The spathe of the ubussú; cannot be split lengthwise; its fibers are tough and cloth-like and cross each other at low angles, and as the cluster of flowers expands the spathe stretches. In time, the fibers, on account of the great amount of moisture within, decay, and the growing flowers or fruits tear the spathe asunder, and it drops off in ragged fragments. The ubussú; spathe is utilized to some extent by the natives of the Amazonas valley. It requires, however, to be cut before the flowers have expanded much. It is simply cut off at the stem and is drawn from over the bunch of flowers as one pulls off a close-fltting undershirt by stripping it over his head.
The cloth of this spathe is capable of a great deal of stretching if care is taken to distribute the expansion evenly. This stretching can best be done by wetting the spathe, putting the hands inside the sack and gently forcing them apart. Sacks that are not more than an inch or two across may thus be expanded to a diameter of one or two feet. One may frequently see a suit of clothes for a small boy made of one of these spathes. This is done by cutting off the pointed outer end of the spathe and cutting two holes in opposite sides near one end.
A picturesque and fairly comfortable hat can be made by pushing one end of the ubussú; sack inside, pulling it over the head and turning up the lower end for the rim. Hat manufacturers have occasionally utilized these spathes by pressing them into the shape of an ordinary straw hat and stiffening, binding and lining them. The chocolate brown color and their lightness make them attractive.
The poor people of the forest regions of the lower Amazonas use this spathe also for bags and reticules, in which small articles may be tied up and hung from the roofs of their buildings. When one is in the forest and chances to need a receptacle in which to carry small articles, fruits, nuts or something of the kind, the spathe of the ubussú offers a homely but efficient help.
In general appearance the nuts of the ubussú palm are unlike those of any other palm; the outside coat is rough and brittle like a walnut hull, while the nut is almost as smooth as a horse-chestnut. The green nuts contain a potable milky fluid very like the milk of a green coco nut. The taste of the cut hull, however, is bitter. It is worthy of note that the nuts of this palm float in the water (most palm nuts are too heavy) and large quantities of them are swept down the Amazon and out to sea. They are said to be carried to the West India Islands (where they are known as 'sea apples' or 'sea coco-nuts'), and even to the northwest islands of Scotland.
I have spoken here of a few of the characteristic features of a very few of the Brazilian palms, but it is not improbable that our so-called practical turn of mind may lead some of us to ask whether the palma of economic importance cannot be grown in some parts of the United States, not to speak of recent annexations. I am much disposed to think so. The U. S. Department of Agriculture has, with commendable enterprise, recently undertaken the introduction of date palms into Arizona and California, and there can scarcely be any doubt of the ultimate success of the effort. There are many other palms that will thrive in a climate where dates can be grown.
Literature.—For the benefit of those who may wish further and more detailed information regarding palms a list of the most important works on the subject is appended; a few other titles are mentioned in the foot-notes.
2. Historia naturalis palmarum. Auctor C. F. P. de Martius. 3 vols, folio. Leipzig, n. d.
3. Palms of British East India. By William Griffith. Calcutta, 1850, folio.
4. Palm Trees of the Amazon and their Uses. By Alfred R. Wallace. 48 plates, 129 pp., London, 1853.
5. Popular History of the Palms and their Allies. By Berthold Seeman. xvi 359, III., London, 1856.
6. Palmæ mattogrossenses novæ vel minas cognitæ quas collegit descripsit et iconibus illustravit. J. Barbosa Rodriguez, xx 92, 27 plates. Rio de Janeiro, 1898.
7. Palmæ novæ Paraguayenses quas descripsit et iconibus illustravit J. Barbosa Rodriguez, ix 66, 6 plates, Rio de Janeiro, 1899.
8. Flora Brasiliensis. Fasciculus 55, Palmæ. Exposuit Oscar Drude. Lipsiæ, 1881.
9. Palmæ Amazonicæ sive enumeratio palmarum in itinere suo per regiones Americæ æquetoriales lectarum. Auctor Ricardo Spruce. Read Jan. 21, 1869. Proc. Linn. Society, XL, 65, 183.
10. New Palms collected in the Amazon valley in 1874. By James W. H. Trail. 'Journal of Botany,' Nov. and Dec, 1876, Jan., Feb. and Mar., 1877.
11. The origin and distribution of the cocoa palm. By O. F. Cook. Contributions from the U. S. Nat. Herbarium. Vol. VII., pp. 257-293. Washington, 1901.
- Coco, not cocoa, is the correct form of this word.
- The course and growth of the fibro-vascular bundles in palms. 'Proe. Am. Phil. Sec.,' 1884, XXI., 459-483.
- The branching doom palm of Africa (Hyphaene thebaica) is the only exception to this rule. There is an Areca that forks near the base, and the date palm puts out shoots at or near the base of the trunk.
- Since observing this peculiarity of palm fronds, I have frequently seen something of the same kind in the great 'deadenings' of the South and South-west. Many species of trees arc readily recognized at a distance by the attitudes of the dead and broken limbs: the limbs of the black oak stand up nearly straight; those of the black-jack hang down and curl under, while those of the post oak are full of 'elbows.'
- A Descriptive Catalogue of Useful Fiber Plants of the World.' By Chas. R. Dodge. Report 9, U. S. Department of Agriculture, Washington, 1897, p. 256.
- 'Les Palmiers; historie iconographique.' Par Oswald de Kerchove de Denterghem, Paris, 1878, p. 213.
- This palm, the Mauritia vinifera, is called mirity and murity in the Amazonas region, but further south it is called burity; in the Paraguay valley region it is called mburity.
- The nut of this palm is about the size of a man's fist, dry and without a pulpy covering, and the shell is very thick and hard. Whether there is a real virtue in the smoke of the urucury nuts, I do not know; the rubber gatherers insist that smoke made by other palm nuts or with wood will not answer the purpose.
- 'Notice sur le palmier carnaúba.' Par M. A. de Macedo. Paris, 1867.
- Herbert H. Smith thinks this palm different from the carnaúba of Ceará ('Do Rio de Janeiro a Cuyaba,' p. 366), but Barbosa Rodriguez, the Brazilian botanist, says they are the same ('Palmæ mattogrossenses,' p. 1). Morong reports the Copernicia cerifera and describes two new species from Paraguay. 'Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci.,' VII., 245-247.
- 'O Coqueiro da India.' Pelo Dr. J. M. da Silva Continho, Rio de Janeiro, 1889, p. 2.
- 'Nature,' Nov. 21, 1895, LIII., 64.
- 'The Date Palm and its Culture.' By Walter T. Swingle. Yearbook of the U. S. Department of Agriculture for 1900, pages 453-490. Washington, 1901.