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Species Identification


Proceed step by step through the key, each time choosing the closet match of two or more options. Since this is only a selection of species, do a final check of your plant with the species description and illustration itself.

Note: This guide is strictly limited to domesticated trees. Most of these have many wild relatives with some similar characteristics, but in addition there are thousands of other species not covered by this key. To bring this field guide to a natural forest and expect to use it for general botanical identification will thus only lead to confusion and misinterpretations.


 Branched tree with leaves modified to needles or scales (Agathis with normal leaves), no colorful flowers, fruits are cones.
Multistemmed, erect (except a few climbing forms), branches from internodes, flowers rare.
Unbranched erect (or climbing) stem with large leaves and flower stands from centre of crown.
Branched shrub or tree with ordinary leaves.


 1.1Needles in bundles of 2Pinus merkusii
 1.2Needles mostly in bundles of 3 
  a.White-powdered branchlets; cones in groupsPinus kesiya
  b.Young twigs orange-brown; cones singlePinus caribaea
 2.1Bark dark, reddish-brown to blackAraucaria
 2.2Bark light grey-brownCasuarina
3.Parallel nerved thick leavesAgathis


Bamboo spp.


1.Soft, green stemBananas (Musa spp.)
2.Woody stem 
 2.1Fan-shaped leavesBorassus
 2.2Feather-shaped leaves 
  a.Leaves 1–1.5 m long; stem smooth, slenderAreca
  b.Leaves 4–5 m long, fruits largeCocos
  c.Leaves to 7.5 m long, stem ruggedElaeis
3.Climbing, flexible, thorny stemRattans


Leaf types:

PalmateTrifoliateOpposite singlePinnateAlternate single

IV-a: Palmate leaves

1.Palmately compound leaves 
 1.1Leaves in whorls of 5–8, not truly palmate; flowers small, greenish-yellow; no spinesAlstonia
 1.23–5 leaflets; flowers small, bluish; no spinesVitex
 1.35–7 leaflets; flowers large, red; spinyBombax
 1.45–11 leaflets; flowers medium, white; spinyCeiba
2.Single large palmate leaves; often unbranchedCarica

IV-b: Trifoliate leaves

1. Leaflets large, thin and heart-shaped or broadly ovate; trunk thorny; flowers large, orange or redErythrina
2.Leaflets small, lance-shaped; shrubCajanus
3.Leaflets elliptic to ovate 
 3.1Leaflets 4–26 cm long, shiny above, hairy below, yellow-red before falling off; bark smooth, pinkishSandoricum
 3.2Leaflets 4–50 cm; bark pale brown to dark brown; fruit 3-lobed capsuleHevea
 3.3Leaflets to 7.5 cm long; old branches thornyAegle

IV-c: Opposite leaves

1.Leaves 15–38 cm long 
 1.1Lance-shaped leavesSyzygium jambos
 1.2Heart-shaped leavesGmelina
 1.3Obovate leaves 
  1.3.1Medium-sized; branches horizontal, in whorlsTerminalia
  1.3.2Small; crooked trunk; irregular crownSyzygium aqueum
  1.3.3Medium-sized; straight; irregular crownSyzygium cumini
 1.4Elliptic or oblong leaves 
  1.4.1Branches in whorls; small tree; secondary nerves bent and joiningGnetum
  1.4.2Branches not in whorls 
  a.Straight trunk; medium-sized tree 
  -Leaves to 38 cm long; flowers redSyzygium malac.
  -Leaves to 25 cm long; flowers yellow-greenGarcinia
  -Flowers purplishLagerstroemia speciosa
  b.Crooked trunk; small treeSyzygium samarangense
  c.Shrub or small treeCoffea canephora
2.Leaves 1–15 cm long 
 2.1Medium to very large tree; straight trunk 
  2.1.1Very large; stem smooth, brightly colored; leaves ovate to lanceolateEucalyptus deglupta
  2.1.2Large; bark grey and orange; leaves asymmetric, ovate or obovate; flowers only one, white petalIntsia
 2.2Shrub to small, low-branching tree 
  2.2.1Small tree; bark green to red-brown, peeling offPsidium
  2.2.2Spiny bush/small tree; leaves small, lanceolatePunica
  2.2.3Shrub; horizontal branches; leaves oval to elliptical, margin often undulatingCoffea arabica

IV-d: Leaves pinnate, bipinnate or tripinnate

1.Leaflets 5–25 mm long
 1.1Leaves pinnate, leaflets oblong or linearTamarindus
 1.2Leaves bi- or tri-pinnate, leaflets ovateMoringa

 1.3Leaves bipinnate, leaflets oblong or linear
  1.3.1Shrubs or small multistemmed trees, low branches
  a.Stem usually very darkCalliandra
  b.Stem usually light brownLeucaena
  1.3.2Small (to medium) sized trees up to 25 m high
  a.Pods 5–15 cm long 
  -Thorns on trunk and branchesAcacia catechu
  -No thorns, 
   * Leaflets 6–12 mm, smoothParaserianthes
  b.Pods 25–45 cm long, flat and woody; tree with wide crown, showy red flowersDelonix
  c.Pods 35–45 cm, strongly twistedParkia
2.Leaflets 20–60 mm long 
 2.1Pinnate leaves 
  2.1.1Leaflets oblong, obtuse, 10–35 mm 
  a.20–40 pairs of leafletsSesbania
  b.8–16 pairs of leafletsTamarindus
  2.1.2Leaflets ovate-oblong or elliptic, 30–70 mmCassia siamea
  2.1.3Leaflets lance-shaped, toothed, 40–80 mmAzadirachta indica
  2.1.4Leaflets ovate, ≤70 mm, not true leaflets, but pinnately arranged leavesPhyllanthus acidus
 2.2Bi-or tri-pinnate leaves 
  2.2.1Even number of leaflets 
  a.Leaflets oblong, rounded tipAlbizia lebbeck
  b.Leaflets strongly asymmetrical ovateAlbizia saman
  2.2.2Single terminal leafletGliricidia
 2.3Leaves with only 4 leafletsPithecellobium
3.Leaflets 50–250 mm long 
 3.1Leaves even-pinnate 
  3.1.19–17 pairs of serrate leaflets, 4–15 cm longAzadirachta
  3.1.21–10 pairs of entire, crenate or serrate leaflets, 5–28cm long,
  a.Leaflets lanceolate 
   * 2–5 pairs of entire leaflets, 3–16 cm longLitchi
   * 4–10 pairs of leaflets, 5–25 cm long, sometimes crenate or serratedSpondias cytherea
  b.Leaflets ovate-oblong 
   * Small tree; numerous large, yellow flowers; fruit long cylindrical podCassia fistula
   * Medium to large tree; buttresses; fruit large roundish 5-valved capsuleSwietenia (macroph.)
  c.Leaflets ovate to obovate, hairy belowNephelium
 3.2Leaves odd-pinnate (with single terminal leaflet)
  3.2.1Leaflets alternate 
  a.6–9 leaflets, 9–21 cm longLansium
  b.7–11 leaflets, 5–10 cm longPterocarpus
  3.2.2Leaflets opposite 
  a.2–6 pairs of elliptic to ovate leafletsAverrhoa car
  b.7–19 pairs of ovate leafletsAverrhoa bilimbi

IV-e: Alternate single leaves

1.Leaves with parallel nerves  
 1.1leaves and/or stalks hairyZiziphus 
 1.2leaves without hairs, fruits are pods
  1.2.1Stem straight; leaves to 25 cm long; flowers whiteAcacia mangium
  1.2.2Stem sometimes multi-stemmed and/or crooked; leaves narrow, 5–18 cm long; flowers yellowAcacia auriculiformis
2.Leaves with toothed edge  
 2.1Leaves and/or flower stands hairyMuntingia
 2.2Leaves smooth 
  2.2.1Leaves oblong to lanceolate, in whorls of 3Macadamia
  2.2.2Leaves ovate, sometimes lobedMorus
3.Winged leaf stalks; translucent spots in leaves; spiny branches
 3.1Leaf stalk narrowly winged or margined  
  3.1.1Usually very spiny, leaves ovate to elliptic, fruit flesh greenish, very sourCitrus aurantiifolia
  3.1.2Sometimes spiny, leaves ovate to lanceolate, fruit flesh orange, sweetCitrus reticulata
 3.2Leaf stalk broadly winged  
  3.2.1Young parts soft-haired; +/- long spines; wings to 7 cm wide; fruit smooth, to 30 cm diameter, sweetCitrus grandis
  3.2.2Spines small, wings to 4.5 cm wide; fruit with bumpy skin, to 7 cm diameter, very acidCitrus hystrix
4.Leaves lobed  
 4.1Leaves 5–7 cm long, toothedMorus
 4.2Leaves 20–60 cm long, deeply pinnately lobedArtocarpus altilis
 4.3Leaves 5–25 cm long, 1–2 lobes on young plantsArtocarpus heterophyllus
 4.4Leaves fernlike, 9–21 pairs of leaflets with deep narrow lobesGrevillea
5.Leaves very large, to 60 cm long and 40 cm wide 
 5.1Leaves deeply pinnately lobedArtocarpus altilis 
 5.2Leaves entireTectona
6.Leaves have none of the above features  

Leaf shape:


6.1Leaves heart-shaped to ovate; bark green to red; rust colored scales on young twigs; flowers large, pink or whiteBixa
6.2Leaves oblong
 6.2.1Shrub/small tree; branches in whorls; leaves 15–50 cm longTheobroma
 6.2.2Medium-sized tree; branchlets brown-haired; leaves 5–16 cm long, rust red belowChrysophyllum
 6.2.3Small to medium-sized tree; branches often drooping; leaves with pleasant smell if crushedPersea
6.3Leaves obovate
 6.3.1Leaves and/or branchlets with brown or yellow-red hairs
 a.Leaves rust red below, 5–16 cm long; branchlets brown-hairedChrysophyllum
 b.Leaves 5–25 cm long, brown-hairedArtocarpus integer
 6.3.2Leaves and branchlets without brown or yellow-red hairs
 a.Flowers/fruits on twigs 
 -Leaves silky white belowManilkara kaukii
 -Leaves with prominent midrib and veinsAnacardium
 b.Flowers/fruits on trunk/large branches 
 -Leaves glandular; fruits small, roundBaccaurea racemosa
 -Fruits very large, irregularArtocarpus heterophyllus

6.4Lance-shaped leaves 
 6.4.1Leaves mostly less than 20 cm long
 a.Leaves narrow, 5–10 times longer than wide
 -Trunk often crooked, low branches; small to medium-sizedEucalyptus camaldulensis
 -Trunk straight, grey-white-bluish; medium to very large-sized; twigs with waxy white coatingEucalyptus grandis
 b.Leaves broader, less than 3 times longer than wide
  *Silvery/golden scales & hairs on leaf underside; fruit large thorny, edibleDurio
  *Leaf stalk up to 8 cm long; fruit yellow-red, small, edibleBaccaurea ramiflora
 -No buttresses 
  *Leaf stalk 0.5–1 cm; flowers small, small trees; leaves aromatic smell if crushed; flowers on stalksMyristica
  *Leaf stalk 1 cm to very long; 
 -Leaves with prominent midrib below, parallel lateral nerves, stalk up to 3.5 cmManilkara zapota
 -Leaf stalk up to 8 cmBaccaurea ramiflora
 6.4.2Leaves mostly more than 20 cm and up to 45 cm long
 a.Leaf stalk 1–2.5 cm long 
 -Leaves narrow, green-grey, to 30 cm longEucalyptus camaldulensis
 -Leaves broader, shining, to 45 cm longBouea
 b.Leaf stalk 1.5–10 cm long 
 -Leaf stalk swollen at baseMangifera indica
 -Leaf stalk not swollen at baseMangifera altissima
6.5Leaves ovate 
 6.5.1Very small to medium-sized trees; fleshy edible fruits
 a.Fruits more than 10 cm long 
 -Leaves bad smell when crushed, fruit soft-spinedAnnona muricata
 -Leaves pleasant smell, fruit pear-shapedPersea americana
 b.Fruits less than 8 cm 
 -Leaves to 45 cm long; branchlets angular or flattenedBouea
 -Leaves to 15 cm long, prominent midrib belowManilkara zapota
 -Leaves to 18 cm long, glandularBaccaurea racemosa
 6.5.2Medium to large-sized trees; fruits mostly small, not edible
 a.Trunk often crooked; branchlets reddish; leaf stalk shortEucalyptus camaldulensis
 b.Straight trunk, bark white to grey-blue; leaf stalk shortEucalyptus grandis
6.6Leaves elliptic 
 6.6.1Leaves 25–50 cm long 
 a.Branchlets and leaves hairy; sometimes buttresses
 -Hairs on leaf midrib and veins belowDimocarpus
 b.Branchlets and leaves without hairs; no buttresses
 -Leaf stalk to 2.5 cm long; branchlets angular or flattened; flowers 4-merousBouea
 -Leaf stalk to 9 cm long; branchlets angular; flowers 4-merous, whiteMangifera altissima
 -Leaf stalk to 8 cm, very swollen at base; flowers 5-merous, reddishMangifera foetida
 6.6.2Leaves 3–25 cm long 
 a.Twigs and/or leaves with hairs; edible fruits
 -Both twigs and leaves with brown or reddish brown hairs
  *Leaf stalk to 20 cm long; leaves hairy on midribs and veins onlyDimocarpus
  *Leaf stalk to 3 cm longArtocarpus integer
 -Hairs on leaf underside only 
  *Large tree; leaves silvery or golden underneathDurio
  *Shrub or small tree; leaves greenAnnona squamosa
 b.Twigs and leaves without hairs 
 -Fruits edible fresh 
  *White latex in all parts; fruits very large, on stem and large branchesArtocarpus heterophyllus
 -Fruits drupes or berries, not edible fresh; Small tree leaves aromaticMyristica






Within each of the above groups the species descriptions are arranged alphabetically.

Notes to distribution maps:

Data on geographic distribution of tree species in Southeast Asia is still very limited and scattered. In most cases it has only been possible to determine if a particular species is present in a particular country or not, whereas its distribution within the country is not well known. In some countries, consisting of many islands, like Indonesia or the Philippines, it has been possible to specify the distribution of some species to certain islands. The relative abundance of each species is roughly indicated on the distribution maps by the following patterns:

Relative abundance:


Agathis dammaraAraucariaceae

Synonyms: Agathis loranthifolia, A. celebica, A. hamii

Common names: dammar raja, kisi, salo (Ins); dayungon (Phi).

Key characteristics: Tall straight-boled tree; grey and light brown pattern on trunk; rich in resin; leaves elliptical, 6–8 cm long with parallel nerves; seed cones roundish, about 8–10 cm in diameter.

Description: A large tree up to 65 m tall and 200cm, or more, in diameter. Bark smooth, grey, coming off in large irregular plates producing a distinctive light brownish-grey pattern. Bark with abundant resin. Leaves smooth and shiny, oval to narrow elliptical, 6–8 cm long and 2–3 cm wide (smaller on fully exposed branches), tapering towards the rounded tip. Mature pollen cones up to 4–6 cm × 1.3 cm, on a stalk about 3 mm long. Mature seed cones oval to globular, 9–10.5 cm × 7.5–9.5 cm.

Use: Wood is used as general purpose softwood for boat building (masts), panelling, packaging, furniture, matches, household utensils, pencils, veneer, plywood, pulp and paper and many others. The tree is also an important source of a copal resin.

Ecology: It occurs scattered in lowland rain forests up to 1,200 m altitude, in the Philippines reported up to 2,100 m.

Distribution: Indonesia (Kalimantan and Sulawesi) and the Philippines.

References: Soerianegara & Lemmens (1994), Zamora et al. (1986).

Araucaria cunninghamiiAraucariaceae

Synonyms: Araucaria beccarii

Common names: Hoop pine, colonial pine, Richmond river pine (En); alloa, ningwik, pien (Ins); son naam (Tha).

Key characteristics: Very tall, straight, evergreen tree; bark reddish-brown, brown to almost black, with wrinkles, fissures or ridges; branches in whorls; leaves lanceolate to triangular; seed cones to 10 cm long.

Description: A very large evergreen, symmetrical tree with a tall straight cylindrical bole. Up to 60 (70) m tall and 200cm in diameter. Bark reddish-brown or dark brown to almost black with transverse wrinkles, fissures or ridges. Branches often starting high on a bole, in whorls of 6–8, with leaf-bearing twigs all along their length. Leaves lanceolate to triangular with pointed apices slightly curved inward. Male (pollen) cones up to 8 cm long, mature female (seed) cones terminal, 6–10 × 5–8 cm with spiny winged scales. Seeds triangular, 20–30 mm × 9–10 mm, excluding wings.

Use: Yields excellent timber for all kinds of light construction and interior works, as well as for plywood and pulp that can be mixed with hardwood pulp. Seeds are edible.

Ecology: Most common above 1,000 m altitude where rainfall is high and temperatures range from 9–26°C. Pioneer species in disturbed habitats where soils may be very poor, leached, podzolic and acid. In Papua New Guinea it is commonly associated with species of Castanopsis, Cinnamomum, Podocarpus, Prumnopitys and Schizomeria.

Distribution: Native to Australia, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia and established as plantations in Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines.

References: Soerianegara & Lemmens (1994).

Casuarina equisetifoliaCasuarinacae

Synonyms: Casuarina litoralis, C. litorea

Common names: Horse tail casuarina, casuarina, Australian pine (En); cemara laut (Ins); ru laut (Mal); tinyu (Mya); agoho (Phi); duong, phi-lao (Vie).

Key characteristics: Straight trunk; inner bark reddish, bitter or astringent; narrow, pointed feathery crown; pine like appearance; gray-green needles <30 cm long and 1 mm thick; cones small, 10–25 × 13–20 mm.

Description: A medium to large evergreen tree, 15–50 m tall and 20–100 cm in diameter, that from a distance has the appearance of a pine tree. The trunk is very straight, first with smooth light grey-brown bark that later becomes thick, rough, furrowed and shaggy, splitting into strips and flakes exposing a reddish-brown inner layer. The crown is feathery, narrow and pointed. The “needles” are grey-green branchlets less than 30 cm long and 1 mm thick, with 5–8 branchlets per node and 7–8 cells per branchlet. The leaves are reduced to tiny scales at the nodes of the green branchlets. The male “flowers” in subterminal spikes formed of short, toothed cups (not illustrated). The fruit is a brown cone, oblong, 10–25 mm long and 13–20 mm wide, occurring in terminal heads (see illustration).

Use: Wood is used for fuelwood and charcoal, posts, poles, tool handles or made into pulp. Bark contains dye and also has medicinal use. Used for erosion control, dune stabilization, land reclamation and as windbreak.

Ecology: A pioneer species on sandy shores and river banks, very adaptable to a wide range of environmental conditions. It prefers alkaline to neutral soils, temperature between 10–35°C and rainfall between 700–2,000 mm but tolerates extremes outside these ranges well.

Distribution: Native to coastal areas from India to Polynesia and reported from Myanmar, Thailand, China, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

References: Hensleigh & Holaway (1988), National Academy of Science (1980).

Pinus caribaeaPinaceae

Common names: Carribean pine, pitch pine, Nicaragua pine (En).

Key characteristics: Large; straight bole; deeply fissured bark; young twigs orange brown; needles in bundles of three (occasionally 2,4 or 5), 15–25 cm long; cones single, 4–14 cm long.

Description: A large tree up to 45 m high, but mostly smaller in plantations, with a straight cylindrical bole up to about 100 cm in diameter, deeply fissured bark and orange brown twigs later becoming grey-brown. Needles mostly in bundles of three, occasionally two, four or five, 15–25 cm long, in whorls at the end of shoots. Cones single, ovoid, 4–14 cm long. Divided into three varieties: var. hondurensis, the most common in Southeast Asia, var. caribaea and var. bahamensis.

Use: Wood is used for light construction, flooring, boxes and toys as well as for paper pulp, fibreboard and chipboard. Good quality oleoresin can be tapped from the stem.

Ecology: Growing naturally in a wide range of forest and savanna habitats as a pioneer species, for instance after fires, creating pure stands. Light demanding. In S.E. Asia grown only in strongly seasonal environments and light to medium textured neutral to acid soils. Tolerates seasonal waterlogging and salty winds.

Distribution: Native to Central America, now planted in many tropical areas including Myanmar, Thailand (trials), Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

References: Soerianegara & Lemmens (1994).

Pinus kesiyaPinaceae

Synonyms: Pinus insularis, P. khasya

Common names: Benquet pine, khasya pine (En); khoua, mai hing (Lao); tinyu (Mya); son-sambai, chuang, kai-plueak-daeng (Tha); thoong ba las, xafnu (Vie).

Key characteristics: Large; bark thick, reticulate, deeply fissured; branchlets often with white “powder”; needles 12–21 cm long, in bundles of 3 (sometimes 2 or 4); Cones up to 3 together, 5–8 cm long.

Description: A large tree up to 45 m tall with first branches 15–20 m up, up to 100 cm in a trunk diameter. Bark thick, reticulate and deeply fissured. Branchlets often covered with white waxy “powder”. Needles in bundles of 3 (occasionally 2 or 4), very slender and flexible, usually between 12 and 21 cm long, bright grass green. Cones up to 3 together, pendulous, ovoid to ovoid-conical, usually 5–8 cm long, stalkless or on stalk up to 10 mm long. The combination of P. khasya and P. insularis into one species - P. kesiya, is disputed by some botanists.

Use: General purpose timber as well as particle board and pulp. Oleoresin of good quality can be tapped from this species.

Ecology: Grows in areas with mean annual rainfall from 700 to 1,800 mm, a pronounced dry season and mean annual temperatures between 17–22°C. Pioneer species on a wide range of forest and savanna habitats following disturbances like fire. Very light demanding.

Distribution: Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, southern China, northern Vietnam and northern Philippines.

References: Soerianegara & Lemmens (1994).

Pinus merkusiiPinaceae

Synonyms: Pinus sumatrana, P. merkusiana

Common names: Merkus pine, Mondoro pine, Sumatran pine (En); damar batu, damar bunga, uyam (Ins); tapulau (Phi); son-song-bai, son-haang-maa, kai-plueak-dam (Tha); thoong nhuwja, thoong hai las (Vie).

Key characteristics: Large; straight bole; branches heavy, horizontal to ascending; bark thick, grey-brown, forming plates at base, reddish tinged higher up; needles in pairs, 16–25 cm long; cones single or in pairs, 5–11 cm long.

Description: A large tree up to 70 m high and 55 cm trunk diameter on average (sometimes up to 150 cm) with straight, cylindrical bole free of branches up to 15–25 m in height. Branches are heavy and horizontal or ascending. Bark is thick, grey-brown and forming plates towards base, but scaly and reddish tinged higher up. Needles in pairs, slender, 16–25 cm long with persistent basal sheath. The cylindrical cones single or in pairs, 5–11 cm long. The seeds are small and have a 2.5 cm long wing.

Use: Used as a general purpose timber and for construction, boat building and flooring. A good quality oleoresin can be collected.

Ecology: The southern most naturally occurring pine, growing up to 2,000 m altitude in areas with mean annual rainfall of 1,000–3,500 mm.

Distribution: From eastern Myanmar through northern Thailand to southern China, Indo-China, Indonesia and the Philippines.

References: Soerianegara & Lemmens (1994).


Bamboo spp.Gramineae

About 200 species of bamboo belonging to 20 genera are found in Southeast Asia, some of which are cultivated. The taxonomic classification is incomplete and unclear for several species. Here a general description is given with a few common species shown as examples.

Common names: Vernacular names for bamboo species are generally not very reliable and should be treated with caution as they can be misleading.

Key characteristics: Woody, hollow culms with internodes; culms usually form clumps; thin branches from internodes; 8–18 leaves on each branchlet.

Description: Woody, usually hollow, erect, straight and smooth culms with internodes, some species up to 30 m tall and 25 cm in culm diameter. In most genera the culms form clumps at base. Average length between inter-nodes is 35 cm but may be more than one metre in some species. Climbing species also exist. Branches and culm sheaths arise from internodes. The culm sheets, which usually falls off when the culm matures, often have irritant hairs on the outside. Each branchlets bears 8–18 leaves. Most species with lance shaped, thin leaves with parallel venation pattern and a leaf stalk. New culm shoots are produced every year from the rhizomes (underground stems).

Use: Countless uses in light construction, furniture making, basket weaving, for musical instruments and handicrafts, as containers or as raw material for paper production or bamboo plywood. Young shoots of many species, including Dendrocalamus asper are edible.

Ecology: Most bamboos flowers only rarely, at intervals varying from 20 to 120 years, after which the plant dies. In some species the whole population flowers simultaneously, in others the flowering is individual but some, like the genus Schizostachyum flower continuously and do not die afterwards.

Distribution: Distributed all over Southeast Asia.

References: Dransfield & Widjaja (1995).


Areca catechuPalmae

Synonyms: Also spelled Areca cathecu

Common names: Betel palm, areca palm (En); pinang, pinang siri (Mal); kunthi-pin kun (Mya); bunga (phi); maak mia (Tha); cao (Vie).

Key characteristics: Slender erect palm; young stem green, later grayish brown; 8–12 leaves, 1–1.5 m long; single branched inflorescence from stem under crown; fruits yellow to orange.

Description: A slender, erect, palm up to 30 m tall and 25–40 cm in diameter. Stem straight, green when young, later becoming grayish brown, with rings from leaf scars. 8–12 leaves, 1–1.5 m long, even pinnate, with 30–50 leaflets, each 30–70 cm long and 3–7 cm wide are forming the crown, about 2.5 m in diameter. A single, branched inflorescence from the stem under the crown. Male flowers numerous, small, borne above female flowers, 3-merous. Female flowers on thickened base of branches, 1.2–2 cm long, green and creamy-white. Fruits 5–10 × 3–5 cm variable in shape, yellow to orange when ripe, 50–400 fruits on one stand.

Use: The hard, dried endosperm of ripe and unripe seeds (the “nuts”) are chewed as a narcotic, sometimes alone, but usually mixed with the leaves of betel-pepper (Piper betel) and slaked lime.

Ecology: Grows from sea level to about 900 m altitude, particular in coastal climates, where evenly distributed annual rainfall of 1,500–5,000mm ensures ample soil moisture throughout the year.

Distribution: Origin unclear, but probably in north eastern Indonesia. In Southeast Asia, it is found in Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

References: Purseglove (1985), Whitmore (1979).

Borassus flabelliferPalmae

Common names: Palmyra palm (En); lontar (Mal); htan, htan-taw (Mya); taan (Tha); thót-lót (Vie).

Key characteristics: Very dense, relatively small crown; leaves fan-shaped with short thick stalks; smooth stem; fruits to 20 cm in diameter, yellowish.

Description: Solitary fan palm up to 20 m tall with stiffly projecting leaves and very dense, blue-green crown. Stem smooth. Leaf stalks short, massive and yellowish, finely toothed on margins (but appearing smooth from a distance). Leaf blade fan-shaped, 1–1.3 m across. Inflorescence about 1 m long, hanging down through split leaf base. Fruits roundish, 15–20 cm in diameter, yellow when ripe. Similar species: May occasionally be confused with two other genuses of fan palms Corypha and Livistonia. However, Corypha has much larger leaves with massive spines and only flowers once, producing a huge treelike inflorescence, after which it dies. Livistonia also have much larger spines on the leaf stalks than Borassus but the stalks themselves are more slender, resulting in a more open crown. Fruits of Livistonia are much smaller than Borassus ranging from 1.5–7.5 cm in diameter.

Use: Sugar and toddy is produced from sap extracted from young inflorescence. Young fruits edible and their juice used for flavouring cakes. Fibres can be extracted from the base of the leaf stalks.

Ecology: According to Purseglove (1985), it does not thrive in extremely humid climates, although it is often found along water courses in drier areas.

Distribution: From Africa through Madagascar, India and Sri Lanka to Myanmar, Thailand, Indo-China, Malaysia, Indonesia, and further east.

References: Purseglove (1985), Whitmore (1979).

Cocos nuciferaPalmae

Common names: Coconut palm (En); kelapa (Ins, Mal); on, mak-un (Mya); niog (Phi); ma-praaw (Tha); dùa (Vie).

Key characteristics: Feather shaped leaves; leaf scars on stem, characteristic big, green-yellowish to brown fruits - usually year round. Naturalized in coastal areas.

Description: It grows to 25 m in height. The trunk is 20–40 cm in diameter at breast height and marked with leaf scars. Leaves on adult trees are 4–5.5 m long with a stalk of 1 m or longer. The more than 100 pairs of leaflets are linear to lanceolate, acuminate and up to 1 m long. Inflorescence is about 1 m long or less with female flowers at the base of the stalk and male near the terminal end. Fruits are round, sometimes 3-angled, 15–25 cm long and covered with a thick fibrous husk. Many different types of coconut palms exist, including dwarf types.

Use: Literally hundreds of uses have been recorded. These include timber, posts, fencing, food, fuel, drinks, thatching, basket making, mats, brushes, brooms, utensils, alcohol and oils.

Ecology: The coconut palm prefers warm lowland habitats with evenly distributed rainfall of 1,500 mm or more annually. Although it often regarded as a coastal plant, it can be found far inland and at elevations up to 1,500 m. The fruit tolerates long periods in salt water which has probably contributed to the very wide distribution of this species.

Distribution: The origin of this palm is not known, already prehistorically it was distributed throughout the tropics and is now naturalized on tropical shores world-wide, including all countries of Southeast Asia.

References: F/FRED (1992), Guzman & Fernando (1986), Hensleigh & Holaway (1988), Purseglove (1978), Westphal & Jansen (1993), Whitmore (1979).

Elaeis guineensisPalmae

Common names: Oil palm (En); dôong preeng (Cam); kelapa sawit, salak minyak (Ins); kelapa bali, kelapa sawit (Mal); si-ohn, si-htan (Mya); pan namman (Tha); co dâù, dùa dâù (Vie).

Key characteristics: Unbranched palm; leaf bases remain on stem at least 12 years; leaves up to 7.5 m long, with spiny leaf stalk.

Description: Unbranched erect tree up to 20–30 m tall and 22–75 cm in diameter. The crown has about 40–60 live dark green leaves and a skirt of dead leaves (less leaves if trimmed as is common in plantations). Each leaf up to 7.5 m long with 60–160 pairs of leaflets and spiny leaf stalk. Leaf bases remain on a stem for at least 12 years giving a rough-stemmed palm. Later, when fallen off, the stem becomes smooth. The inflorescence is produced from about every second leaf axil. There are up to 1,500 deep violet fruits (ripening to orange-red) in each roundish dense cluster, weighing 30 kg or more. Individual fruits are about 4 cm long, oval, broadly triangular and with the style remaining on the tip.

Use: Mainly grown for its high production of palm oil and palm kernel oil used for making margarine, cooking oil and other food products and soaps and detergents. The press cake remaining after extracting the oil is an important livestock food. Palm wine can be made from sap tapped from the male inflorescence and the central shoot is edible. Leaves are used for roof-thatching.

Ecology: Its natural habitat is considered to be along tropical rain forest water courses or in freshwater swamps or in other disturbed forest habitats where adequate light is available. It prefers 2,000 mm of annual rain or more and warm tropical temperatures and grows on a wide range of soils.

Distribution: Originates in West Africa but is now widely grown in many tropical countries including Thailand, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

References: Guzman & Fernando (1986), Purseglove (1985), Whitmore (1979).

Musa spp. Edible formsMusaceae

Common names: Banana (En); cheek nam' vaa (Cam); pisang (Ins, Mal); kwàyz (Lao); nget pyo thee (Mya); gluay (Tha); chuôí (Vie).

Key characteristics: Branchless herb; green stem; leaves to 4 m long from center of stem; Single, large inflorescence through center of pseudo-stem; many varieties.

Description: Tree-like perennial herb, 2–9 m tall. Tightly rolled over-lapping leaf sheath forms a cylindrical pseudo-stem, 20–50 cm in diameter. New leaves grow up through the centre of the pseudo-stem. The leaf blade is 1.5–4m long and 0.7–1m wide with pronounced supporting midrib. A single terminal inflorescence appear through centre of pseudo-stem, bending down when exerted, male flowers towards tip of stand, female behind these. Flower/fruit stand 50–150 cm long when mature. Fruits berrylike, seedless, curved 6–35 cm long, 2.5–5 cm wide, green, yellow or reddish.

Use: Grown primarily for the fruit which, depending on cultivar can be eaten fresh, cooked or preserved in various ways. The male bud is eaten as a vegetable. Leaves are used for packing, wrapping and decorative purposes.

Ecology: Although banana has a wide temperature tolerance, growth and production are far better in warm tropical climates. It requires steady moisture supply of about 200 mm a month and plenty of sunlight. It prefers neutral to acid, deep, friable loams with high organic matter content.

Distribution: Exact origin unknown, but now all over the tropics and subtropics.

Musa textilis

Common names: Manila hemp

Key characteristics: Slender; leaves smaller, reddish when young; fruits with seeds.

Description: Structure similar to the edible bananas but more slender with smaller leaves and seeded fruits. Leaves reddish when mature.

Use: The very strong and resilient fibres from the outer sheets of the leaf stalks are used for producing ropes, fishing nets, hammocks, hats and mats. Lower grades are used for special types of paper production.

Ecology: Like the edible bananas

Distribution: Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

References: Purseglove (1985), Verheij & Coronel (1992), Westphal & Jansen (1993).

RattansAraceae (or Palmae)

Almost 600 species of climbing palms of which nearly 400 belongs to the genera Calamus. Other major genera represented in southeast Asia are: Daemonorops (115 species), Korthalsia (26) and Plectocomia (16).

Common names: Rattan, canes (En); rotan (Ins,Mal); kyin (Mya); wai (Tha).

Key characteristics: Very thorny climbing palms with slender and flexible stems; mostly unbranched; thorny whip like climbing organs.

Description: Spiny, climbing (except a few species) palms with solid but very long and flexible, mostly cylindrical stems. Some are single-stemmed, some multi-stemmed, with stem diameters ranging from a few mm to more than 10 cm. Leaves with or without stalk, usually armed with spines in species characteristic arrangements, in some species extending into long spiny whip like climbing organ (cirrus). Other species (many Calamus) have similar organ (flagellum) arising from the leaf sheath on the stem. Single inflorescence is produced at the node (stem-section), borne in the leaf axil. Most genera have male and female flowers on separate plants. Korthalsia has, however, hermaphroditic flowers.

Use: The stems are extensively used for making cane furniture, mats, baskets and rope. Young shoots and fruits of some species are edible.

Ecology: Varies between species due and the wide geographical range. Rattan species are found in most forest types and on most soil and rock types, from sea level to 3,000 m altitude. Different species are adapted to a range of light conditions.

Distribution: From equatorial Africa, through Indian subcontinent, Sri Lanka, southern China, the Malay Archipelago to Australia and the western Pacific including Fiji. The greatest number of genera and species are found in western Malesia*.

References: Dransfield & Manokaran (1994).

* Malesia is the bio-geographical region including Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines and Papua New Guinea.

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