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Pacific Ocean region

This chapter considers the islands of the Pacific Ocean which are geographically divided into Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia. Micronesia delimits islands in the western Pacific and consists of the Mariana, Palau, Caroline, Marshall and Gilbert island groups. Melanesia lies to the northeast of Australia and includes New Caledonia, Vanuatu (formerly known as the New Hebrides), Solomon Islands and Fiji. Polynesia designates the islands of the central Pacific, including Samoa (Western and American), French Polynesia (Marquesas, Society Islands, etc.) and Tonga. Papua New Guinea is also included within the scope of this chapter; politically the nation of Papua New Guinea consists of the eastern portion of the island of New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago (e.g. New Britain and New Ireland) as well as Bougainville.

The following geographic areas where palms occur are excluded from discussion in this chapter and this report. The Hawaiian Islands; New Zealand, including the Kermadec Islands; Australia and its island territories (e.g. Lord Howe, Norfolk, Christmas and Cocos); and the Bonin and Ryukyu Islands belonging to Japan.

The Pacific Ocean Region presents some very unusual patterns of native palms diversity. In the entire area of Micronesia there are only about ten species of native palms (Moore and Fosberg, 1956). The situation in Polynesia is comparable. In marked contrast Melanesia has much greater native palm diversity. For example, New Caledonia alone has 32 indigenous palm species, all endemic (Moore and Uhl, 1984) and Vanuatu has 21 native palms (Dowe and Cabalion, 1996). Papua New Guinea and its islands hold a very rich diversity of palms; about 190 native species in all (Essig, 1995; Hay, 1984).

Coconut, considered as a cultivated tree, is the most widespread palm of the Pacific, found on virtually every island, inhabited or uninhabited, that is of sufficient size and high enough above sea level to support the growth of trees. A dozen or more palms from outside the region have been introduced to these islands and in some cases become naturalized, giving individual islands the appearance of a richer palm flora than they naturally possess. The betel nut palm (Areca catechu) and the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) as well as several strictly ornamental species serve as examples. Palms native to the region have also been introduced to islands where they are not native. Examples are the useful sago palms, Metroxylon spp., and two ornamental species, the Fiji fan palm, Pritchardia pacifica and the Marquesas palm, Pelagodoxa henryana.

Native palms of the Pacific Ocean Region, as defined above, were assessed for information on their utilization patterns and conservation status. The results of the assessment are evaluation presented below; however, they can be understood better if placed within a broader context. Two major factors stand out.

First of all, native palms of the region are not utilized to the magnitude that might be expected. This circumstance can be explained by the existence of excellent alternative sources of plant raw materials which are readily accessible. In the Pacific Islands, the chief alternative plants are coconuts and the screw pines (Pandanus spp.). The case study on the multiple utility of the coconut palm on the Truk Islands of Micronesia (Chapter 2) documents the very limited exploitation of native palms. As for the other alternative plant source, screw pines are widely distributed in the Pacific and provide edible fruits as well as leaves for thatching and weaving.

The second factor is that information is lacking that would allow assigning a threatened or non-threatened status to many native palms in the region. This applies in particular to Papua New Guinea where 90 percent of the palm species carry an "unknown" conservation status. Some uses for these "unknown" palms are reported in the literature. However, without conservation status information, a reasonable appraisal cannot be made as to whether a particular utilization is acceptable and apparently sustainable, or should be discouraged because it represents a threat to the survival of wild populations.

Threatened Pacific Ocean Region Palms

A review of the technical literature on palms revealed a total of 28 species of threatened palms, representing 12 genera, currently being exploited in the region (Table 5-1). It is acknowledged that this compilation is probably incomplete as regards palm utilization because it was not possible to peruse the numerous ethnographic studies of this culturally and linguistically diverse area. Coverage for Papua New Guinea is insubstantial because both conservation status and detailed ethnographic data are lacking.

Habitat destruction or degradation caused by logging and clearing of land for agriculture and urban development are the major threats to palms in the region. Palms occurring on islands are particularly at risk because they often occupy habitats that are relatively small in area. Moreover, island palms often represent distinctive species which have evolved due to isolation. New Caledonia is a remarkable example of this circumstance for it possesses 32 native described species, all endemic to the island and in certain instances individual species occur only in small areas of the island. All 32 of New Caledonia’s palms are threatened, but only one, Alloschmidia glabrata, is reportedly exploited, for palm hearts. In New Caledonia, as elsewhere in the region, coconuts and screw pines furnish plant materials for a wide variety of uses.


An examination of the palm products listed in Table 5-1 indicates that in most cases the threatened palms are being exploited for subsistence-level production. Thatching and stem wood for construction purposes are most prominent with some food products as well. If the destructive impact of exploiting these palms is publicized it should be possible to promote alternative raw material sources.

Commercial-level exploitation appears to be confined to the rattan palms (Calamus spp.), popular sources of canes for furniture making, and palm heart exploitation.

Of the six threatened rattan species, only Calamus hollrungii and C. warburgii are of sufficient importance to be even considered "minor rattans" in a recent study of this plant resource (Dransfield and Manokaran, 1993). Calamus hollrungii, according to the source just cited, is a source of excellent furniture canes and has potential for cultivation. Rattans represent a potential sustainable resource, especially in Papua New Guinea where about 34 species of Calamus occur, but except for the two species mentioned above, there is no information on either conservation status or utilization.

Table 5-1: Threatened Pacific Ocean Region Palms with Reported Uses
Scientific Names
Selected Local Names1
Actinorhytis calapparia vekaveke (New Ireland); boluru (Sol) PNG, Solomons nuts as betel substitute, edible palm heart
Alloschmidia glabrata
? New Caledonia (endemic) edible palm heart
Areca guppyana bua lau  Solomons (endemic) nuts as betel substitute
1) Balaka
2) B. pauciflora;
3) B. seemannii
1) mbalaka, niuniu;
2) black bamboo;
3) mbalaka, niuniu
1, 2 & 3) Fiji (all endemic) 1) stems to make ceremonial spears; edible kernel; 2) stems to make spears; 3) stems for walking sticks & to make spears
1) Calamus
2) C. stipitatus;
3) C
4) C. vestitus;
5) C. vitiensis;
6) C. warburgii
1) Papuan white rattan (PNG), kuanua (New Ireland); 2) ?; 3) loya ken; 4) ?; 5) ngganuya; 6) ? 1) PNG, Solomons; 2) Solomons (endemic); 3) Vanuatu (endemic); 4) PNG, Solomons; 5) Fiji (endemic); 6) PNG, Solomons 1,2,4 & 6) traditional house building & furniture making; 3) minor use for furniture making, stem sap drunk & used as ointment; 5) baskets, walking sticks 
Carpoxylon macrospermum
bungool Vanuatu (endemic) fruit eaten, brooms from leaves, carrying & storage vessels from first inflorescence bract and leaf sheath
2) C.
3) C. samoense
1) ngami igh; 2 & 3) niu vao  1) Vanuatu (endemic); 2 & 3) Western Samoa (both endemic) 1) fruit mesocarp & palm heart eaten; 2 & 3) stem wood split into rods for attaching thatch, leaves for thatch
Cyphosperma tanga tangga Fiji (endemic) seed & palm heart edible
Licuala grandis tabataba  Vanuatu leaves used for wrapping and as an umbrella, also in medicine 
1) Metroxylon 
2) M. salomonense;
3) M. vitiense;
4) M. warburgii
1) rypwyng; 2) heavy nut, ivory nut (Sol), bia (Van); 3) songo; 4) tenebee (Sol), uluwar (Van), ota (Rot)  1) Carolines (endemic); 2) Solomons, Vanuatu; 3) Fiji (endemic); 4) Solomons, Vanuatu Rotuma 1) leaves for thatching, seed is source of vegetable ivory; 2) seed is source of vegetable ivory, leaves for thatching & other uses; 3) leaves for thatching; 4) leaves for thatching, stem starch (Van, Rot) 
Pelagodoxa henryana
énu Marquesas Islands (endemic) young endosperm eaten
1) Veitchia
2) V. joannis;
3) V. pedionoma;
4) V. vitiensis;
5) V. montgomeryana
1) thangithake; 2) niusawa; 3) niuniu; 4) kaivatu; 5) palmtri 1-4) Fiji (all endemic); 5) Vanuatu (endemic) 1) stems previously (?) used as rafters; 2) leaves for thatching, stem for spars & construction, seed & palm heart edible; 3) leaves for thatching, stem wood to make canoe ribs, ceremonial spears, immature fruit edible; 4) stems for house rafters, palm heart, seed & inflorescence all edible; 5) palm heart harvested for tourist restaurants;

Notes: 1. Many other local names are given in most of the sources cited.
2. Distribution is within the region as defined; some species
also occur elsewhere.

Sources: Cribb, 1992; Dowe, 1989a,b, 1996; Dowe, Benzie and Ballment, in press; Essig, 1978, 1995; Gillett, 1971; Hay, 1984; Horrocks, 1990; LeBar, 1964; Moore, 1979; Moore and Uhl, 1984; Rauwerdink, 1986; Uhl and Dransfield, 1987; Whistler, 1992.

The native rattans of the Pacific Ocean region are in general of lower quality and have less value than the primary commercial species in Southeast Asia. As a substitute for exploiting native rattan resources, the South Pacific Forestry Development Programme has launched a program to introduce three commercial rattan species from Malaysia into the South Pacific (Tan, 1992). Trial plantings have been carried out using sega (Calamuscaesius), manau (C. manau) and batu (C. subinermis).

Seven palms in Table 5-1 are indicated to have edible palm hearts and Veitchiamontgomeryana in Vanuatu is exploited to furnish exotic salad ingredients to restaurants operated primarily for tourists. All seven of these palms are solitary species and therefore the exploitation is unsustainable and should be strongly discouraged.

The sago palms (Metroxylon spp.) are multipurpose species. Products currently being derived from the four threatened species in Table 5-1 could all be derived from the main cultivated species, Metroxylon sagu, as an alternative.

Non-threatened Pacific Ocean Region Palms

In the Region, only ten non-threatened palm species, in eight genera, have reported uses (Table 5-2). This number will certainly increase as more becomes known about the palms of Papua New Guinea. Arenga microcarpa, Caryota rumphiana and Metroxylon sagu share the characteristics of producing suckers and of terminal flowering; palms having these growth habitats are readily managed on a sustainable basis.


Subsistence-level uses for construction materials and food products characterize the palms in Table 5-2. Three of the palms merit further discussion. Korthalsia zippelii in Papua New Guinea apparently supports a cottage industry for furniture making.

Metroxylon sagu in Papua New Guinea is exploited for stem starch which is both a subsistence and commercial product. Sago is produced manually and some surplus is produced and sold in markets. Shimoda and Power (1986) and Power (1986) discuss the status of sago in Papua New Guinea. Inasmuch as M. sagu is native to New Guinea it represents a natural resource with substantial development potential. Over the past 20 years the sago palm has received considerable attention because it is a high producer of starch per unit area and sago starch has certain unique qualities for food and industrial uses. Table 5-3 lists the nine books on sago which have been published.

Nypa fruticans is found in pure stands in Papua New Guinea, but has been under utilized. A major drawback is the lack of local knowledge of tapping techniques to obtain nipa sap and convert it to sugar or alcohol. According to Päivöke (1983, 1984) nipa has development potential in Papua New Guinea.

Table 5-2: Non-threatened Pacific Ocean Region Palms with Reported Uses
Scientific Names
Selected Local Names1 Distribution2 Products/Uses
Areca macrocalyx kumul (New Ireland), e’esu (Sol) PNG, Solomons nuts as betel substitute
Arenga microcarpa ? PNG edible palm heart
Caryota rumphiana  gelep (New Ireland) PNG, New Ireland stem wood for construction planks
Clinostigma savaiiense niu vao Western Samoa (endemic) stem wood split into rods for attaching thatch, leaves for thatch
1) Gulubia costata;
3) G. cylindrocarpa;
2) G. macrospadix
1) ?;

2) niulip; 

3) niniu (Boug) 

1) PNG; 2) Vanuatu, Solomons (endemic to the two island groups); 2) PNG, Bougainville, Solomons 1) stem wood for floor boards & siding; 2) palm heart & fruit eaten; 3) stem wood for floor boards & siding 
Korthalsia zippelii ? (rattan)  PNG furniture making, walking sticks, etc.
Metroxylon sagu ambutrum (PNG) PNG, Solomons stem starch (see Table 9-22 for nutritional composition), leaves for thatching, petioles for construction, etc.
Nypa fruticans


ak-sak (Boug); towe’el (Palau) PNG, Bougainville; Marianas leaves for thatching, tapped for sap, heart & immature endosperm eaten; leaves for thatching (Mar)

Notes: 1. See Table 5-1.
2. See Table 5-1.

Sources: References for Table 5-1 and in addition: Essig, 1982; McClatchey and Cox 1992; Päivöke, 1983, 1984; Ruddle et al., 1978; Whistler, 1987.

Table 5-3: Books Published on the Sago Palm (Metroxylon sagu) Since 1977
Abbreviated Title and Reference
First Sago Symposium (Tan, 1977) Proceedings represent a benchmark on sago & consist of 32 papers under the general headings: prehistory & ethnobotany; agronomy & economics; technology & industry.
Palm Sago (Ruddle, et al., 1978) A global study of sago starch with chapters on: traditional extraction; sago as subsistence food; sago in myth and ritual; modern commercial sago production; international trade; future outlook.
Second Sago Symposium (Stanton & Flach, 1980) Proceedings consist of 17 papers divided between sago palm growth & starch production, & actual & potential food & industrial uses. 
Sago West Malaysia (Tan, 1983) A detailed study of the sago industry in Batu Pahat District, southwestern Peninsular Malaysia.
Sago Palm (Flach, 1983) A development paper prepared especially for the expert consultation meeting in January 1984, see next item. A solid state-of-the art summary.
Sago Palm Products (FAO, 1986) A collection of 25 papers for an expert consultation meeting, January 1984, covering the general topics: management of natural stands; agronomy & farming systems; sago processing & utilization; socio-economics. 
Third Sago Symposium (Yamada & Kainuma, 1986) Proceedings consist of 28 papers covering three general areas: case studies of sago production in specific areas of Southeast Asia & Papua New Guinea; sago palm growth; technical & industrial aspects of starch production.
Fourth Sago Symposium (Ng et al., 1991) Proceedings consist of 33 papers given in the following seven broad areas: status & prospects; ecology, distribution & germplasm; in vitro culture; growth & nutrition; environment & production; processing & quality; utilization & product development
Fifth Sago Symposium1 (Subhadrabandhu & Sdodee, 1995) Proceedings comprised of 19 papers covering three general areas: technical & industrial aspects of sago starch; sago palm cultivation; economics

Note: 1. A Sixth International Sago Symposium is scheduled for December 9-12,1996, in Pekanbaru, Indonesia; the theme of the symposium is "The Future Source of Food and Feed." The proceedings will be published.
6/.A book on the palms of New Caledonia is in process by Jean-Christophe Pintaud and Donald R. Hodel and is expected to be published in 1997.

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