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Latin American region

New World palms and their products are the subject of this chapter. The region is defined as extending north-south from Mexico to Chile and Argentina, and including the islands of the Caribbean.

Palm species diversity in this region is second only to Asia. Glassman (1972) recognized over 1,100 palm species in the Americas (including the United States). However, in a recent field guide to New World palms, Henderson et al. (1995) consider there to be only 550 palm species native to the Americas. This significant difference in species totals is attributable to the many synonymous names included in the higher figure and the fact that Henderson et al. follow a broad species concept resulting in the lower number.

Over the last two decades, research in the biological and social sciences has helped to generate a reliable body of knowledge about the utilization patterns and scientific names of Latin American palms. This knowledge has come from several different approaches, and can be illustrated by the following examples grouped into five categories.

General palm studies. The survey of the major underutilized palms of tropical America (FAO/CATIE, 1984) is an excellent source of information. Papers in the palm symposium proceedings (Balick, 1988b) primarily deal with the Latin American region. Balick (1984, 1989) also has provided surveys of palm ethnobotany and diversity of use in the region. A natural resource approach was used by Kahn (1991) in a study of palms in swamp forests of the Amazon. Kahn and de Granville (1992), in their study of palm forest ecosystems of Amazonia, provide data on leaf and fruit productivity which have direct relevance to exploiting palm products. A literature survey of South American palms as sources of medicine was carried out by Plotkin and Balick (1984). Schultes (1974) examined the relationship between palms and religious beliefs among indigenous people in the northwest Amazon.

Indigenous palm use. South America has been the focus of a number of such recent studies. The palm use of the Shipibo in Peru was studied by Bodley and Benson (1979), as previously shown in the case study in Chapter 2. Anderson (1978) investigated indigenous palm names and uses by the Yanomama in Brazil. An ethnobotanical study of the Chácobo Indians in Bolivia by Boom (1986) documented palm use. Gragson (1992) studied palm use by the Pume Indians and Beckerman (1977) by the Bari Indians, both in Venezuela. Palm utilization in coastal Ecuador among the Cayapas and Coaiqueres was investigated by Barfod and Balslev (1988). Balick (1979b) documented palm use by the Guahibo in Colombia and the Apinayé and Guajajar Indians in Brazil (1988c).

Geographic area studies. Apart from floras themselves, palm use in specific geographic areas has been studied by Read (1988) in the Caribbean, Quero (1992) in Mexico and Bernal (1992) in Colombia. Borchsenius et al. (1996) did a study of Ecuadorean palm use; and Kahn (1988), Mejía (1988, 1992) and López Parodi (1988) all researched the subject in parts of eastern Peru. Pinheiro and Balick (1987) edited and translated material on Brazilian palm use.

Oil palm studies. The American oil palms have been the subject of several investigations relative to their economic potential. Lleras and Coradin (1988) provide an overview of the oil-bearing palms of the region and Balick (1979a) examined the subject in the Amazon. Balick (1986, 1988a) also looked in detail at oil palms in the genus Oenocarpus (including Jessenia). Anderson et al. (1991) studied in depth the potential of the babaçu palm (Attalea speciosa, syn. Orbignya phalerata) in Brazil. Pesce (1985) is a source of information on the characteristics of Amazonian palm oils.

Management and domestication studies. Apart from American oil palms, management of other wild palm stands has been the subject of research. Anderson (1988) in the Lower Amazon in Brazil, and Urdaneta (1981) in the Orinoco Delta in Venezuela, each studied management of the açaí or manaca palm (Euterpe oleracea). Voeks (1988) examined management of the piassava palm (Attalea funifera) in Bahia, Brazil. Pinard and Putz (1992) researched palm demographics and management which included a dozen New World palms. Ecuadorian palms with agroforestry production potential were the subject of a book by Borgtoft Pedersen and Balslev (1990). Coradin and Lleras (1988) provided an overview of New World palms with domestication potential. The only fully domesticated native palm of the region, pejibaye (Bactris gasipaes) has been the object of a number of studies (Clement, 1988; Mora-Urpí, 1996), the results of which may be applicable to other species in the region.

Threatened Latin American Palms

The foregoing discussion provides background for an assessment of natural native palm populations which have reported uses and are also under threat in the wild. Table 6-1 lists 27 genera and their species which are known to be utilized as well as threatened by a combination of factors. Criteria for inclusion in the table on the basis of utilization were that uses are contemporary or historical with the possibility of renewal; some examples of very minor and occasional use are omitted.

It should be noted that there exist a number of threatened species which do not appear in Table 6-1 because they have no current utility. Also, information on the conservation status of some forest palms in remote areas is unknown. Within the Latin American region, the two chief threats to native palms populations are deforestation and shifting cultivation. Exploitation also plays a role depending upon the product and varying from species to species.


The main purpose of Table 6-1 is to draw attention to those products derived from threatened palms, products which should not be promoted for commercial production if they rely upon wild palm stands. It is well to distinguish in general between subsistence uses and commercial uses. Subsistence-level exploitation, especially by indigenous groups of forest-dwellers, in most cases poses no significant threat to wild palm populations. But commercialization of the products of threatened palms which inevitably must lead to an increase of pressure on wild palms can bring about adverse effects. Over exploitation of leaves and fruits impairs natural regeneration of populations of standing trees. Digging of palm seedlings for ornamental use has the same effect if insufficient numbers of young plants are not left in place. Felling trees themselves for products such as palm heart can result in the most serious impact of extractive activities on native palms.

Table 6-1: Threatened Latin American Palms with Reported Uses
Scientific Names
Selected Local Names
Distribution Products/Uses and Selected References
Aiphanes linearis chirca (Col)  Colombia  edible fruit
  1. Allagoptera arenaria;
  2. A. brevicalyx
1) cacando (Bra); 2)burri da Praia (Bra)  1 & 2) Brazil  1 & 2) edible fruit
  1. Astrocarvum aculeatissirnum;
  2. A. malybo;
  3. A. triandrum 
1) birejauva (Bra); 2) anchamba (Col); 3) cabecenegro (Col)  1) Brazil
2 & 3)Colombia 
1) leaves for brooms & hats, stems for construction; liquid endosperm used medicinally;
2) veins of young leaflets used to make mats, baskets;
3) stems used for fencing & construction
  1. Attalea amygdalina (incl. A. victoriana)
  2. A.crassispatha
  3. A. oleifera(incl. A. burretiana,
  4. A. fessmannii 
1) taparo (col);
2) carossier (Hai);
3)catoIé (Bra);
4) coco (Bra), conta (Per)
2) Haiti;
3) Brazil:
4) Brazil, Peru 
1) edible & oil -bearing seed
2) seeds eaten by children
3) leaves for thatching, oil-bearing seed,
4) endocarp burned to smoke rubber
  1. Brahea aculeata;
  2. B- dulcis 
1) palmilla (Mex),
2) palma de sombrero (EIS), suyate (Hon), capulin(Mex) 
2) Mexico to
El Salvador& Nicar agua 
1) leaves for thatching;
2) steins for construction, leaves for thatch, leaf fibers for rope, edible fruit
Butia eriospatha  butiá (Bra)  Brazil  fruits used to flavor alcoholic drink
Calyptronoma rivalis coquito (DR); Palma (Hai); palma manaca (PR)  Dominican Republic, 

Haiti, Puerto Rico 

young leaves for weaving, mature leaves for thatching (Zona, 1995)
Ceroxylon spp. palma de cera (Col), palma de ramo(Ecu)-, ramo benedito (Ven)  Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador,Peru, Venezuela  leaves cut for Palm Sunday, stems for fences & construction, fruits fed to pigs
Charnaedorea spp.
(all except C repejilote) .
canelilla, guaya, guaita, molinillo, pacaya, pacayita, palmilla, sangapilla, tepejilote, xaté  Mexico to Brazil & Bolivia  cut foliage, whole plants & seed for ornamental use
  1. Coccothrinax borhidiana
  2. C. crinita;
  3. C. ekmanii 
1) guano (Cub);
2) guano barbudo(Cub);
3) gwenn (Hai) 
1 & 2) Cuba;
3) Haiti 
1,2 & 3) leaves for thatching
Colpothrinax wrightii palma. barrigona (Cub)  Cuba  leaves for thatching, stem for canoes, water barrels, etc., fruits fed to livestock

Scientific Names 
Selected Local Names  Distribution 
Products/Uses and
Selecied Referenc
  1. Copernicia brittonortan
  2. C. gigas
  3. C ekmanh 
1)data de costa (Cub)
2) barrigón
3) om de pay (Ifai) 
I & 2) Cuba;
3) Haiti 
1, 2 & 3) leaves for thatching
  1. Cryosophila guagara;
  2. C. williamsi 
1) guágara (CR)
2) mojarilla (Hon) 
1) Costa Rica;
2) Honduras 
  1. leaves for thatching;
  2. edible palm heart (Evans, 1996)
  1. Euterpe catinga
  2. E. edulis
  3. E. luminosa 
1)acai da catinga (Bra), asai de sabana (Col),manaca (Col) Ven);
2) yayih(Arg) jucara, (Bra);
3) guayaquil (Per) 
1)Colombia, Venezuela,Peru. Brazil;
2) Brazil,Argentina, Paraguay;
3) Peru
  1. stems for construction, leaves for thatching. fruits to make drink~ 
  2. edible palm heart (see Table 9-17 for nutritional composition),
  3. stems for poles
Gaussia maya palmasito (Be]), cambo, (Mex)  Belize Mexico  sterns used for construction
Geonoma congesta cortadera (Cot), caña de danta (CR), suita (I Ion)  Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama. Colombia  leaves for thatching
Itaya amicorum (monotypic)  xila (Bra), marimiipa (Col)  Colombia, Peru, Brazil leaves for thatching
Jubaeo chilensis (monotypic) Palma de coquitos (Chi)  Chile  nuts sold as snack food, tapped for sap
Mauritia carana caraná (Bra, Cot, van), canangucha desabana (Cot), aguaje (Per) Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Brazil  leaf sheath fibers to make brooms, leaves for thatching
Oenocarpus distichus  bacaba (Bra)  Brazil, Bolivia  fruits used to make a beverage & extract oil
  1. Parajubaea sunkha:
  2. P. torallyi
  1. palma sunklia (Bol);
  2. janchicoco (Bol) 
1 & 2) Bolivia  1 & 2) leaf sheath & petiole fiber woven into rope (Moraes, 1996; Vargas, 1994)
Phytelephas seemannii;
P. tunuicana
tagua (Col, Pan)  Panama, Colombia  seeds for vegetable ivory, leaves for thatching (Dalling et al.,1996
  1. Pseudophoenix ekmanii;
  2. A lediniana
1) cacheo (DR); 2) pal (Hai) 
  1. Dominican Republic; 
  2. Haiti
1) former source of palm wine by felling tree;
2) fruits collected for livestock feed
  1. Sabal pumos;
  2. S. uresana 
1)palma real (Mex);
2) palma blanca (Mex) 
1 & 2) Mexico  1) fruit mesocatp edible, leaves for thatching;
2) leaves for thatching

Scientific Names 
Selected Local Names 
Products/Uses and
Selection References
  1. Syagrus botryophora;
  2. S. harlevi
  3. S. pleioclada;
  4. S. smithii;
  5. S. werdermannii
  1. pati (Bra);
  2. coco de raposa (Bra);
  3. coqueirinho (Bra),
  4. catolé (Bra);
  5. coco de vassoura (Bra) 
1,2,3 & 5) Brazil;
4) Colombia, Peru, Brazil 
1) stems in construction, seeds lot oil; 
2) waxy leaves as fuel;
3) leaves to make brooms;
4) leaves for thatching, seeds eaten;
5) leaves to make brooms & strainers
Trithrinax brasiliensis  carandaí (Bra)  Brazil  leaflets used to weave hats
  1. Wettinia fascicularis;
  2. W hirsuta
  3. W.longipetala 
  1. macana (Col);
  2. palma mazorca (Col);
  3. no common name
1) Colombia, Ecuador;
1,2 & 3) stems used for construction (Bernal, 1995)

1. Scientific names follow Henderson et. at. (1995); synomyrris are given where notable changes have occurred.
2. An index of common names appears in Henderson et at. (1995).
3. The genus Attalea includes the genera Maximiliana, Orbignya and Scheelea.
4. There are numerous common names for Chamaedorea palms and they vary from place to place; for more detail see Hodel (1992).
5. Including the genus Jessenia.

Source: Henderson et at., 1995.
Predominant uses in Table 6-1 are leaves for thatching as well as for weaving in basketry; food and feed products derived from fruits, palm heart and palm sap; and construction material from palm stems. Certain of the palms listed warrant discussion.

Table 6-1 groups species of Ceroxylon and Chamaedorea. Eleven species of Ceroxylon are recognized by Henderson et al. (1995). Ceroxylon palms are unique because they represent, for the palm family, some of the tallest palms in the world (up to 60 m in height) and those occurring at the highest elevations (to 3,150 m). These palms occur in montane rain forests, areas under intense pressure as a result of logging and land clearing for agriculture and livestock raising. As indicated, the palm stems are a source of construction material. Formerly, palms were felled to extract the wax covering the stems of Ceroxylon. Remaining stands of these palms should be protected and exploitation for any of their products discouraged.

Chamaedorea palms are also grouped in a single entry, with the exception of C. tepejilote as noted. This represents one of the largest New World palm genera, with 77-100 species, depending on which systematic source is followed. The habitat of Chamaedorea palms is the understory of tropical rain forests ranging from sea level to 2,600 m. About ten species of Chamaedorea are important in ornamental horticulture and for cut foliage, particularly in the United States and Europe. Chamaedorea seifrizii (xate or bamboo palm) and C. elegans (parlor palm, neanthe bella) are the two most important commercial species. This is not the place to go into a detailed discussion of commercial species of Chamaedorea, a subject covered in detail by Hodel (1992). It will suffice here to point out the key issues related to wild populations.

Without question, the chief threat to chamaedoreas is the destruction of their natural forest habitat, for the palms cannot survive without it. Both the gathering of wild Chamaedorea seed and the cutting of leaves for the florist trade have adverse effects on wild populations. Seed collection results in reduced natural regeneration and removal of more than a few leaves per stem can diminish plant vigor and diminish fruit production.

Fortunately, increasing cultivation of chamaedoreas for seed is reducing the pressure on wild palms, except in the case of certain species (e.g. Chamadorea elegans) which are difficult to grow without artificial pollination. The main sources of wild collected seed are Mexico and Guatemala. Cut leaf exports originate from Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica. In northern Guatemala, there is a project to try to manage sustainably the harvest of leaves of wild C. elegans, with some hopeful initial results (Reining and Heinzman, 1992). Most promising in the long run is to encourage local farmers to cultivate the desirable palm species to satisfy the demand for seed and cut foliage (Vovides and Garcia Bielma, 1994).

Euterpe edulis is a single-stemmed palm native to the Atlantic Forest in South America. To a major degree, its inclusion in Table 6-1 is because of exploitation for commercial palm heart production in Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. In Brazil, wild stands were reduced to uneconomic levels, forcing many palm heart companies to shift operations to the Lower Amazon and the exploitation of E. oleracea. Nevertheless, naturally-occurring E. edulis is still being cut in southern Brazil; industries continue to operate as well in the two neighboring countries. In none of the three countries is the practice sustainable. If replacement plantings were done in the forest to replace harvested trees, sustainable production of palm heart from E. edulis could be achieved. Efforts are being made in Brazil to grow the palm on plantations and to produce a hybrid between Euterpe edulis and E. oleracea with a clustering stem that could make cultivation production price competitive with the harvest of wild E. edulis (EMBRAPA, 1987).

Two threatened South American palms, Itaya amicorum and Jubaea chilensis, are represented by monotypic genera, that is there is but a single species within the genus. From a conservation standpoint, monotypic species merit special attention because of the unique biodiversity they represent.

Non-threatened Latin American Palms

A slightly longer list of palms is presented in Table 6-2. Represented are 34 genera, 19 of which are not included in Table 6-2. The 15 genera common to both tables demonstrate that exploited palm species within the same genus may be either threatened or non-threatened in the wild. Palms in Table 6-2 were selected on the same basis as those in Table 6-1, that is there is current or past use documented. Uses in the latter category are included if there is a possible resumption of the exploitation. Again, a small number of palms are not included because the level of utilization is very minor or only occurs occasionally.


At current levels of exploitation, the palms listed in Table 6-2 do not appear to be negatively impacted in a serious manner by their utilization. Major commercial products derived from palms in the region fall into four product groups: edible palm heart; vegetable oil from palm seeds; leaf and leaf base fiber; and wax from palm leaves. The following discussion is comprised of general comments about some of the respective products and palms, and is intended to highlight those utilizations which may lead to problems of sustainability in the near future.

Species in the five genera Acrocomia, Astrocaryum, Attalea (including Maximiliana, Orbignya and Scheelea), Elaeis and Oenocarpus (including Jessenia) comprise the most important oil-bearing palms of the region. Indigenous peoples depended upon these palms as a source of vegetable oil and subsistence utilization continues to this day. These palms produce high quality oil; Oenocarpus oil has been compared to olive oil. But the quantity of oil-bearing fruit in these wild palms is low.

Two major problems hinder large-scale industrialization of oil production from these New World palms. One, the palms are wild or semi-wild and hence fruit collection is inefficient and productivity per unit area is low. Two, national and international markets are dominated by other palm oils, e.g. African oil palm and coconut, as well as oils from annual crops such as soybeans. The first problem could be overcome by domestication and breeding of superior American oil palm species; but the second problem currently is insurmountable because of high productivity per unit area of the competing vegetable oil crops. The best potential for expanded utilization may rest with the management of natural palm stands to increase population densities and promote growth along with development of village-level vegetable oil industries to serve local markets.

Internationally, the most significant contribution of the American oil palms thus far concerns Elaeis oleifera, which is being used as a source of germplasm for a breeding program to improve disease resistance in E. guineensis.

Leaf and leaf base fibers constitute both subsistence and commercial activities in the region. As indicated in Table 6-2, many palm leaves are used for thatching. Providing leaf harvest from individual trees is not excessive, this palm use is sustainable. Where the palm-like Panama hat plant (Carludovica palmata) occurs in Central America and northern South America, it represents an often preferred source of leaf material for weaving. In Brazil, palm leaf base fibers are collected from Attalea funifera (Bahia piassava) and Leopoldinia piassaba (Pará piassava) and primarily used to manufacture brushes and brooms. Collection of these fibers is a benign and sustainable form of exploitation providing that the trees themselves are not damaged in the process.

Table 6-2: Non-threatened Latin American Palms with Reported Uses
Scientific Names
Local Names
Products/Uses and
Selected References
Acrocomia aculeata (incl. all other spp. except A hassleri)  mbocayá (Arg), totaí (Bra),macaúba(Bra), corozo(Col, Ven), tamaco (Col),coyol (CR, EIS, Hon,Mex),
carosse (Hai) 
Mexico, Honduras, El Salvador, Costa Rica to Argentina, Bolivia& Paraguay; Haiti  multipurpose palm including oil-bearing seed & sap for palm wine (Balick, 1990)
  1. Allagoptera campestris;
  2. A. leucocatyx 
1)buri (Bra);
2) tacuchicoco(Rol), coco da chapada (Bra) 
  1. Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina; 
  2. Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina 
1) edible immature fruits;
2) mesocarp & seeds edible
Aphandra natalia  piassaba (Bra, Ecu); tagua (Ecu)  Ecuador, Peru, Brazil leaf sheath fiber for making brooms, leaves for thatching, edible immature fruit, male inflorescences fed to cattle (Borgtoft Pedersen, 1992; 1996)
Asterogyne martiana cortadera (Col), pico (Ecu), capoca (Gua), pacuquilla (Hon), pata de gallo (Nic)  Guatemala. Honduras, Nicaragua. Colombia & Ecuador  leaves for thatching
  1. Astrocaryum aculeatum
  2. A. campestre
  3. A. chambira
  4. A- jauari
  5. A. mexicanum
  6. A. murumuru
  7. A. standleyanum
  8. A. vulgare
1) chonta (Bol), tucum (Bra), awara (Guy), cemau (Sur), tucuma (Ven);
2) jarivá (Bra);
3) tucuma (Bra), charribira (Col, Ecu, Per), cumare (Col. Ven). coco (Col, Fen);
4) jauri(Bra), güiridima, (Col, Ven), yavarí (Col), chambirilla, (Ecu, Per), sauarai (Guy), liba awara (Sur)
5) lancetilla (Hon), chocho(Mex);
6) chonta (Bol), murumuru (Bra), chuchana (Col. Ecu). huicungo (Per);
7) guérregue (Col), accord (Ecu); tucum(Bra), swarra (Sur) 
1) Colombia, Venezuela, Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname, Brazil, Bolivia; 2) Brazil Bolivia; 3) Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil; 4) Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, Peru, Brazil; 5) Mexico, Belize, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras; 6) Colombia, Venezuela, Guianas, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia; 7) Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia Ecuador, 8) Suriname, French Guiana, Brazil 1) fruit mesocarp edible, oil-bearing seed (Moussa & Kahn, 1996);
2) young leaf fiber to make fishing nets, fruits edible;
3)young leaf fiber to make hammocks. fishing nets, bags (Holm Jansen & Balslev, 1995):
4) leaf rachis used for weaving, endocar ps for necklaces, fruits as fish bait, edible palm heart 
5) young inflorescence & endosperm eaten, leaves for thatching & stems for tool handles (Ibarra-Manrriquez 1988)
6)mesocarp eaten, leaves for tatching, stems for construction; 7) stems for construction, fruit fed to pigs, young leaves for weaving (Borgtoft Pendersen, 1994);
8)fruit mesocarp to make mash, flavor ice cream & a beverage (Mousa & Kahn, 1996)

Scientific Names 
Local Names 
Products/Uses and
selected References
  1. Attalea allenii; 
  2. A. butyracea;
  3. A. cohune (syn. Orbignya cohune);
  4. A. colenda
  5. A. exigua
  6. A - funifera
  7. A. maripa (syn) Maximiliana maripa):
  8. A. phalerata (.syn Scheelea phalerala),
  9. A. speciosa (svn. Orbignya speciosa)
1) taparín (Cal), igua (Pan)
2) palla (Bol), jací (Bra), palma de vino (Col), palma real(CR, Pan), corozo (CR, Gua, Mex, Ven), canambo (Ecu), coquito (Gua), coyol real(Mex), shebon (Per), palma. de agua (Ven);
3) cohune (Bel, Gua, Hon, Mex), corozo(EIS, Gua, Hon), manaca (Hon):
4) palma real (Cal, Ecu);
5) babaçu (Bra);
6) piaçqava (Bra):
7) cusi (Bol), anajá (Bra), güichire (Col) inayo (Ecu), maripa (FrG, Sur), kukarit (Guy), mayuga (Per), cucurito(Ven);
8) motaca (Bol) urucuri (Bra), shapaja (Per);
9) cost (Boll), babaçu (Bra) 
1) Panama. Colombia:
2) Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia. Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru;
3) Mexico, Guatemala. Belize, Honduras, El Salvador;
4) Colombia, Ecuador,
5) Brazil;
6) Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia;
7) Colombia. Venezuela,
8) Peru. Brazil. Bolivia Paraguay;
9) Guyana. Suriname, Brazil, Bolivia 
1) leaves cut for Parlor Sunday, fruit edible;
2) leaves for thatching (Standley & Steyerniark, 1958);
3) oil from seeds, eaves for thatching (McSweeney, 1995);
4) seeds collected for commercial oil extraction (Blicher-Mathiesen & Balslev, 1990; Feil, 1996);
5) endosperm used to make candies & sweeten food.
6) leaf base fiber is commercially exploited (Voeks. 1988).
7) leaves for thatching;
8) leaves for thatching, endocarps burned to smoke rubber;
9) seeds collected for commercial oil extraction (Anderson et al., 1991, Balick, 1987)
2) B. brongniartii;
3) B. concinna;
4) B. ferruginea
5) B. guineensis;
6) B. macana;
7) B. major;
8) B. maraja
9) R. plumeriana:
1) lata (Cal), alar (Pan);
2) marajá (Bra), chaearrá (Cal), bango pal in (Guy), ñejilla(Per), caña negra (Ven);
3) marajaú (Bel) marajá (Bra). chontilla (Ecu), ñejilla (Per);
4) rnané véio (Bra);
5) corozo (Col) biscoyol (CR), coyolito (Nic), uvita de monte (Pan), piritu (Ven); 6) chontilla(Bel), pupunha brava (Bra), chinamato(Col), pijuayo del monte (Per), macanilla (Ven)7)hones (Bel) marayú (Bol) marajá (Bra) lata (Col) huiscoyol(Eis,Gua,Hon,Nic), jahuacté (Mex) caña brava (Pan) marajá Bra) Chacarrá (Col)uvita (Pan) ñeja (Per), piritu (Sur,Ven)uva de montaña (Ven);
9)coco macaco (Cub), coco macaque (Hai), pickly pole (Jam) 
1) Panama, Colombia 
2) Colombia, Venezuela. Guianas, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia;
3)Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil humans & livestock Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela:
4) Brazil;
5) Nicaragua, 
6) Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia;
7) Mexico. Guatemala, Belize,Honduras El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panamá, Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia;
8) Costa Rica, Panamá, Colombia, Venezuela, Suriname, Perú, Bolivia;
9) Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haití, Jamaica
1) split stems as flooring, 
2) fruits eaten;
3) fruits eaten by humans & livestock;
4) leaf fiber woven into fishing line;
5) stems formerly once used to make walking sticks for export, fruit to make a drink;
6, 7 & 8) fruits eaten;
9) fruits eaten by humans & livestock

Scientific Names
Local Names
Products/Uses and
Selected References
Chamaedorea tepejilote palmito dulce (CR), pacaya (EIS, Gua, Mex), caña verde (Pan)  Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia  immature male infloresence as food from cultivated & wild plants (Castillo Mont et al., 1994); see Table 9-7 for nutritional composition of thi s product
Chelyocarpus chuco  hoja redonda (Bol), caranaí (Bra)  Brazil, Bolivia  caves for thatching & to weave hats
  1. Coccothrinax argentata
  2. C. argentea;
  3. C. barbadensis
  4. C. miraguama ;
1) silvertop (Bah), thatch palm (Cay),yuruguana de costa (Cub), silver thatch(Jam), knacás (Mex);
2) guano (DR), latanye maron (Ha¡); 
3) latanier bala¡ (Gud, Mar), palma de abanico (PR);
1) Mexico, Honduras, Bahamas, Cayman , Cuba, Jamaica 
2) Dominican Republic, Haiti;
3) Guadeloupe, Martinique, Puerto Rico;
4) Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti 
1) stems for construction, leaves for thatchíng;
2 & 3) leaves for thatching;
4) leaves for weaving & thatching
  1. Copernicia alba;
  2. C. prunifera;
  3. C. tectorum;
  4. C macroglossaC baileyana, C. cowellii,C.hospita. C. rigida
1) caranday (Arg, Bol, Par), carandá (Bra); 
2) carnaúba (Bra);
3) sará (Col), cobija(Ven);
4) yarey, jata, guano cano (Cub) 
1) Brazil, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay; 2) Brazil; 3) Colombia,Venezuela; 4) Cuba 1) stems for construction & utility poles, leaves for weaving(Markley, 1955; Moraes, 199 l); 2) leaves source commercial wax (see Table 9-13 for wax composition & properties) & to weave hats & mats (Johnson, 1972);
3)caves for weaving & thatching, stems for construction;
4) leaves to weave hats & baskets, thatching, stems for fence posis 
  1. Desmoncus cirrhiferus;
  2. D. giganteus
  3. D, mitis
  4. D. orthacanthos
  5. D. polyacanthos 
1) matamba (Col), boira negra (Eco); 2) jacitara (Bra), vara casha (Per): 3) jacitara(Bra), bejuco alcalde (Col), barahuasca (Per);
4) basket tic (Bel), bayal (Bel, Gua, Hon, Mex), urubamba (Bol), matamba (Col, CR, Pan), jacitara (Bra), karwari (Guy), bambamaka (Sur), camuari (Ven);
5) jacitara (Bra), bejuco alcalde (Col), vara casha (Per), voladora (Ven) 
1) Colombia, Ecuador,
2) Colombia, Ecuador, Pero, Brazil;
3) Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil Mexico, Guatemala, Belize,, Bolivia;
4) Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, Brazil, Bolivia
5) Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Bolivia
1) stems used to weave baskeis & fish traps, fruit edible;
2) stems used to weave various products (Henderson & Chávez, 1993);
3) stems use for basketry & to tic beams in construction(Galeano. 199 l);
4) stems for basketry; 5) stems for basketry & sieves
  1. Dictyocaryum fusicum;
  2. D. lamarckianum,
  3. D. ptarianum 
1) palma araque (Ven);
2) barrigona (Col), palma real (Ecu), basanco (Per);
3) bombona paso (Col), pona colorada (Per) 
1) Venezuela,
2) Colombia, Ecuador, Pero, Bolivia;
3) Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Brazil 
1) wood used in cabinetry:
2) stems used for construction;
3) stems used in construction, leaves for thatching

Scientific Names 1
Local names
Products/Uses and
Selection References
Elaeis oleifera caiaué (Bra), nolí (Cot)  Central America, Northern South America, Colombia, Brazil  mesocarp oil extracted for cooking & other uses (Schultes, 1990)
1) Euterpe oleracea
2) E.precatoria
1) acaí (Bra), naidí (Cot); manaca (Vcn) 2) acai (Bra), asaí (Bol, Cot), huasi (Per), manaca (Ven)  1) Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil,
2) Central America, Colombia, Venezuela, Guianas, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, Bolivia 
1) steins cut for commercial palm heart (see Table 9-17 for nutritional composition), fruits inade into drink (Anderson, 1988; Pollak et al., 1995, Strudwick & Sobel, 1988; Tabora et al., 1993-1 Urdaneta, 1981),
2) stems cut for commercial palm heart, stems fruits made into drink
Geonoma spp. (.Selected) ubim, assai-rana, jatata, palmiche, cortadera, ubimacu, huasipanga, daru  wide tropical distribution  leaves of many species used for thatching, most important is G. deversa (jatata) in Bol & Per (Rioja, 1992), stems of some used for construction,
Iriartea deltoidea(monotypic) copa (Bol), paxiúba barriguda (Bra), barrigona (Cot), maquenque (CR), bomba(Ecu), huacrapona (Per), barriguda (Ven)  Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador,. Peru, Brazil, Bolivia, Brazil  stems split for construction & other wood uses (Pinard, 1993)
Leopoldinia piassaba piassaba (Bra). chiquichique (Col, Ven)  Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil  stem fiber gathered & traded locally, fruits used to make a drink(Plutz, 1979)
Lepidocaryum tenue caraná (Bra, Col), caraña (Per), morichito(Ven)  Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Brazil  leaves for thatching, esp. in Peru (Kahn & Mejía, 1987) species used in construction
Manicaria saccifera terniche (Ven), bussú (Bra), jiquera (Cot), troolie (Guy), guágara (Pan)  Panama, Colombia, Venezuela. Guyana, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil  leaves for thatching
(Wilbert, 1976)
Mauritia flexuosa caranday-guazú (Bol), buriti (Bra), aguaje(Per), moriche (Cot, Ven)  Northern South America, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil multipurpose palm edible fruit mesocarp (see Table 9-21 for composition), oil from fruit, leaf fibers for rope, baskets, wine& starch from stem (Padoch, 1988, Ruddle & Heinen, 1974)
1) Oenocarpus bacaba;
2) 0 bataua
3) 0. mapora
1) bacaba (Bra), manoco (Col), unguraui(Per), seje pequeño (Ven);
2) batauá (Bra), seje (Cot), chapil (Ecu), unguraui (Per), aricaguá (Ven);
3) bacaba (Bol), bacabai (Bra), pusuy (Col), ciamba (Per), mapora (Ven) 
I & 2) Northern South America. Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Brazil;
3) Costa Rica, Panama. Colombia, Venezuela, Peru,Bolivia, Brazil. 
1) fruits used to make beverage,
2) fruits contain edible oil, also used to make beverage, leaves woven into baskets, stems in construction (Balick & Gershoff, 1981);
3) fruits used to make beverage, leaflet midveins used for basketry

Scientific names
Local Names
and References
1)Phytelephas aequalorialis;
2)P. macrocarpa;
3)P. schortii 
1).tagua (Ecu), 
2) yarina (Col, Ecu, Per);
1)Ecuador, Colombia;
2) Peru,Brazil, Bolivia;
3) Colombia 
1, 2 & 3) seeds for vegetable ivory (Barfod,, 1989; Barfod et aL, 1990; Calera Hidalgo, 1992; Koziol & Borgtoft Pedersen,1993;Ziffer,1992
Polyandrococos caudescens buri (Bra)  Brazil  stems in construction, leaves for thatching, edible fruit
Pseudophoenix vinifera cacheo (DR), katié (Hai)  Dominican Republic, Haiti  leaves for thatching, fruits fed to livestock, former source of palm winw obtained by felling tree.
Raphia taedigera jupatí (Bra), pángana (Col), yolillo (CR),
matomba (Pan)
Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Brazil  petioles used as poles, petiole strips used to make shrimp traps& bird cages
  1. Roystonea borinquena
  2. R. regia 
1) palma caruta (DR), palmis (I (Hai), palma real (PR);
2) yagua (Hon, Mex), palma criolla(Cub), Palma real (Cub, Hon, Mex)
  1. Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Haiti;
  2. Mexico, Honduras, Cuba, Caribbean 
1) fruits fed to livestock (Zanoni, 1991);
2) stems cut into planks for construction, fruits fed to livestock, leaves for thatching (Zona, 1991)
1) Sabal causiarum;
2) S. domingensis;
3) S. maritima
4) S.mauritiiformis; 5) S. mexicana
6) S. palmetto
7) S. pumos
8) S. yapa
1) palma cana (DR), palma de sombrero(PR);
2) palma cana (DR),latanier-chapeau (Hai);
3) guana cana (Cub), bull thatch(Jam);
4) botán (Bel, Gua), palma amarga(Col), palma de guagara (Pan), carata (Ven); 5) Palma de sombrero (EIS), Palma de micharo (Mex),
6) guana cana (Cub); 7) palma real (Mex); 8) thatch palm (Bel), botán (Bel, Gua), palma guano (Cub), cana (Mex) 
Dominican Republic;
2) Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba-, 3) Cuba,Jamaica; 4) Mexico, Belize,Guatemala, Panama,Colombia, Venezuela;
5) Mexico, ElSalvador, Central America; 6) Bahamas,Cuba;
7) Mex;
8) Mexico, Belize,Guatemala. Cuba
leaves for thatch & weaving hats, mats, etc; mesocarp of S. pumos edible (Zona, 1990)
  1. Socratea exorrhiza;
  2. S. montana 
1) pachuba (Bol), paxiúba (Bra), zancona(Col), bombón (Ecu). jira (Pan), cashapona(Per), macanilla(Ven),
2) gualte (Ecu)
1) central America, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador. Peru, Bolivia, Brazil: 2)Colombia, Ecuador I & 2) outer part of lower stem split to make house floors and walls

Scientific Names
Local Names
Products/Uses and
Selection Refrences
1) Syagru scardenasii; 
2) S. cornosa
3) S. coronata;
4) S. flexuosa;
5) S. inajai;
6) S. oleracea;
7) S. petraea;
8) S. romanzoffiana
9) S. sancona;
10) S. schizophylla;
11) S.vagans
1) corocito (Bol);
2) babo (Bra);
3) ouricuri(Bra);
4) acum; 
5) curua rana (Bra);
6) catoIé (Bra);
7) cocorito (Bol), coco de vassoura, (Par);
8) pindó (Arg, Par), jeribá(Bra);
9) sumuqué (Bol), sarare (Col, Ven);
10) aricuriroba (Bra) 11) pindoba (Bra) 
1) Bolivia;
2) Brazil
3) Brazil;
4) Brazil;
5) Gui, Brazil;
6) Brazil, Paraguay; 7) Brazil, Bolivia; 8) Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia;
9) Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia;
10) Brazil; 11)Brazil
1, 2) edible fruit;
3) edible fruit, oil from seed, edible palm heart, leaves fed to livestock, wax from leaves
4) edible fruit
5) leaves for thatching, edible fruit;
6) edible fruit, edible palm heart;
7) leaves for brooms & basketry;
8) edible fruit, edible palm heart, stems in construction,
9) stems for fencing and to conduct water; 10) edible fruit 
11) leaves & inflorescences fed to livestock, leaves fed to livestock, leaves for thatching & weaving hats
  1. Thrinax morrisii;
  2. T.radiata 
1) miraguano (Cub), palma de escoba (PR);
2) guano de costa (Cub), guanillo (DR) latanier-la-mer (Hai) chit (Mex)
1)Cuba, Puerto Rico, Caribbean 2)Mexico, Belize, Honduras Haiti, Dominican Republic, Caribbean, Belize, Honduras  1&2)leaves for thatching, stems as poles
1)Trithirnaxcampestris 2)T.Schizophylla  1)sago (Arg), caranday (Uru); 2)carandillo (Arg.Bol), burití(Bra)  1)Argentina, Uruguay,
2) Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina 
1)leaves for thatching; 2)stems in construction, leaves for thatching & making hats & baskets
Welfia regia  Amargo (Col.Pan) palma conga (CR) camara (Per)  Costa Rica, Panama, Northern South America, Colombia, Perú  leaves for thatching, stems in construction
1)Wettinia aequalis
1)ratonera (Col), gualte (Col,Ecu) 3)corunta(Col), gualte (Ecu)camonilla(Per);
4) mapora (Col); prapa (Ven);
5) memé (Col), gualte (Col, Ecu) 
1)Panama, Colombia, Ecuador;
2)Colombia, Ecuador; 3)Colombia, Ecuador, Peru;
4)Venezuela, Colombia
5)Colombia, Ecuador 
1-5) stems used in construction
1. Scientific names follow Henderson et. al. (1995); synonyms are given where notable changes have occurred.
2. See Note 2, Table 6- 1.
3. The genus A tralea includes the genera Maximiliana, Orbignya and Scheelea.
4. Pejibaye (Bactris gasipaes) is not included in this list because it is a domesticated palm not known in the wild.

Sources: Henderson, el al., 1995; and in addition: Quero. 1992~ Read, 1988.

Over its natural range in Mexico, Central America and Colombia, the pacaya palm (Chamaedorea tepejilote) occurs in considerable numbers. It is also an exception within the genus in that it tolerates disturbance and the more open habitats disturbance creates. This palm is also widely cultivated for its edible, immature male inflorescence which resembles an ear of maize. Pacaya (the palm and the food product share the common name) is a traditional food of local people and is eaten fresh as well as preserved in jars or tins. A small industry exists in Guatemala to preserve pacaya for markets in the region; a quantity is exported to supply emigrant populations in the United States and Canada. Little known outside the region or the ethnic groups in other countries, pacaya has the potential of being promoted as an exotic food item.

The carnaúba palm (Copernicia prunifera) represents the region’s chief commercial source of hard vegetable wax. Carnaúba palms constitute almost pure stands in seasonally- flooded river valleys in northeastern Brazil. Leaves of this fan palm have a coating of hard wax which is obtained by cutting and drying the leaves and then mechanically chopping them into small pieces to dislodge the wax particles. Although in recent decades carnaúba wax has been replaced in many of its former applications by synthetics, it still retains a market for high quality floor and automobile polishes, and is used in the food, pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries because of its high melting point and because it is edible. Current levels of exploitation could be expanded with more efficient harvest techniques and new markets for the wax.

The genus Desmoncus represents the New World counterpart to the true rattans of the Old World. The stems of several species of this climbing palm are used in Latin America to weave baskets and other objects. In recent years, as part of a search for new wild rattan supplies, importers in the United States have investigated the possibility of exploiting Demoncus populations. However, the small diameter and general physical characteristics of Desmoncus are not well suited for making quality rattan furniture. No species of Desmoncus is currently classified as threatened, but that could be because the conservation status of these palms is so poorly known. Moreover, the taxonomy of the genus needs revision to determine valid species names. Any proposed exploitation of wild populations should be preceded by taxonomic and conservation studies.

South America is the source of most of the world’s commercial palm heart. Industries based on the exploitation of natural stands of Euterpe oleracea and E. precatoria operate in Brazil, Guyana, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. Both palm species are widely distributed in South America and occur as major tree species. In addition, both have high quality palm heart. Exploitation is destructive because the individual tree is killed to extract the tender apical meristem.

The basic difference between the two species is that Euterpe oleracea is a clustering palm with ten or more stems per cluster, whereas E. precatoria is a single-stemmed species. As to the question of sustainability of this wild plant resource, the clustering species has potential providing annual harvest involves taking only large stems and the protection of one mature stem per cluster to serve as a seed source for natural regeneration. On the other hand, E. precatoria has little or no economic potential for sustained management based on natural regeneration; it is similar to the situation discussed previously with regard to E. edulis. Felling E. precatoria for palm heart production precludes natural regeneration by eliminating a source of seed. Natural populations of E. precatoria will likely, in the next decade or two, follow the pattern of E. edulis with populations reduced to uneconomic levels. In terms of palm heart production, economic development efforts should be directed toward practical management systems for E. oleracea.

Palm heart is the major palm product included in a new study of non-timber forest products in northern South America (Broekhoven, 1996).

Mauritia flexuosa is Latin America’s most abundant palm, occurring as dense stands in permanently swampy areas, particularly in the Amazon Basin. From an economic development standpoint the moriche palm has considerable potential because it is the source of so many different products. Management of natural stands could enhance fruit and leaf production to provide food items and fiber. Stem starch and sap production for palm wine could also be promoted as a means of diversifying economic output from a management unit.

Vegetable ivory is the hardened endosperm of palms in the genus Phytelephas. Two species of this palm are included in Table 6-1 because they are threatened, whereas three species appear in Table 6-2 because at present they are not. Vegetable ivory was used in the 19th and early 20th century for making buttons, until plastics replaced it. In 1990, Conservation International, Washington, D.C., established the Tagua Initiative, to revive vegetable ivory products including buttons, jewelry and carvings. Promotion focused on the items being natural products and an alternative to animal ivory. Raw materials come from P. aequatorialis stands Ecuadorian coast, where the industries are also located. The Tagua Initiative has achieved modest success.

About one-half the genera in Table 6-2 indicate stem wood as a product. Palm stems are cut and used whole for poles and in construction. Split stems may also be used as floor and wall coverings, as well as fashioned into spears, bows and other objects. Palm wood can be sawn into parquet pieces and used on the floors and walls of public buildings and in modern homes. Palm wood from the genera Bactris, Iriartea, Socratea and Wettinia is reported to be the highest quality. There are many abundant palms species in these four genera which could be exploited for specialized wood products.

Figure 6-1. Collecting pacaya inflorescences (Chamaedorea tepejilote) in Guatemala. Photograph by Don Hodel.

Figure 6-2. Babaçu fruits (Attalea speciosa syn. Orbignya phalerata) being sun-dried in Northeast Brazil. Photograph by Dennis Johnson.

Figure 6-3. Tucum fruits (Astrocaryum aculeatum) for sale in Manaus, Brazil. Photograph by Dennis Johnson.

Figure 6-4. The huasaí palm (Euterpe precatoria) in habitat near Iquitos, Peru. Photograph by Dennis Johnson.

Figure 6-5. Spear and bow carved from buri palm wood (Polyandrococos caudescens) in Bahia, Brazil. Pataxos Amerindians living near Monte Pascoal National Park make these objects to sell to tourists. Photograph by Dennis Johnson.

Figure 6-6. Palm leaf products (from Euterpe oleracea and other palms) for sale in Belém, Brazil. Photograph by Dennis Johnson.

Figure 6-7. Bundles of recently-harvested piassava leaf base fiber (Attalea funifera). Bahia, Brazil. Photograph by Dennis Johnson.

Figure 6-8. Pejibaye palm (Bactris gasipaes) cultivated in a germplasm collection near Manaus, Brazil. Photograph by Dennis Johnson.

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