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Palm trees

Areca catechu - Fen-foah

Areca catechu L.


Synonyms: Areca faufel, Areca hortensis, Areca himalayana

Common names: Betel nut, areca

Dhivehi name: Fen-foah

Status: Common; grown in home gardens and cultivated in large scale.

Description: An erect, slender-stemmed, single-trunked palm that can grow up to 30 m tall but normally trees are in between 10 to 15 m in height. Trunk is green when young, grey coloured in old trees with prominent white leaf scars. Fronds (leaves) are even-pinnately compound with a rigid but recurved rachis and 30 to 50 long lanceolate-shaped leaflets. Frond base sheath is long, smooth and green in colour. Flowers are yellow or creamy white in colour, fragrant and unisexual, with both male and female flowers borne on the same inflorescence. Inflorescence is commonly called as spadix (flower spike), much-branched and borne below the leaves and enclosed in a spathe. Each terminal branch or spikelet of the inflorescence has a few female flowers at the base and numerous male flowers extending from there to the tip. Male flowers are small in size with three petals and calyx cut into three minute lobes. Female flowers are much larger than male flowers with three sepals and three petals. Fruit is ovoid, hard and orange or scarlet coloured with fibrous mesocarp (middle layer) and a thin woody endocarp enclosing a seed. Seeds are ovoid or ellipsoidal and 1.5 to 1.8 cm in diameter with a flattened base.

Uses: Seeds of betel nut are normally cut into narrow pieces and rolled inside betel leaf, rubbed over with lime and chewed by elders and young people alike. It is also chewed alone. Betel nut has astringent, stimulative, digestive and cardiotonic properties exerted by tannin and alkaloid substances present in it. It is a powerful agent to stimulate secretion of saliva. Powered nut is effective in expelling tapeworms from human beings and also combating round worms.

Ecology, propagation and management: It is capable of growing in a wide variety of soil, from laterite to loamy soil, provided the soil has thorough drainage yet has capacity to retain optimum moisture. Normally, light and sandy soils are unsuitable unless well irrigated and manured. It has poor tolerance to drought and requires uniform moisture year-round. Its tolerance to salt spray, salinity and wind is poor. It is propagated only by seeds. Fully matured, heavy fruits that float vertically in water have high germination rate and vigorous seedlings. Fruits are planted as a whole, with husk for propagation. Nursery-grown seedlings of one to two years old, which should bear at least five leaves, are transplanted from nursery bed to field.

Cocos nucifera - Dhivehi ruh

Cocos nucifera L.


Common names: Coconut, coconut palm

Dhivehi name: Dhivehi ruh

Status: Abundant; cultivated in large scale and also grows wild, forming coconut forests.

Description: A large, single-stemmed palm with stout, straight or slightly curved trunk, rising from a swollen base surrounded by a mass of roots. Trunk is light greyish brown in colour, smooth and marked with rings of leaf scars. Tall varieties may attain a height of 20 to 30 m while dwarf varieties are much shorter in stature. Fronds (leaves) are pinnate, up to 6 m long and 1.5 to 2 m wide with 200 to 250 linear lanceolate-shaped leaflets arranged in a single plane on either side of the rachis. Leaf stalks are about 1 to 1.5 m long and smooth. Male and female flowers are borne on the same inflorescence, called a spadix that develops within a woody canoe shaped sheath and have 10 to 50 branchlets (spikelets). Male flowers are small, light yellow in colour, numerous and found towards the tips of branchlets. Each spikelet has zero to three large female flowers at the base. Fruits are ovoid in shape and composed of a thick, fibrous husk surrounding a somewhat spherical nut with a hard, hairy shell. Three sunken holes ('eyes') of soft tissue are present at one end of the nut. Inside the shell is present a thin, white, fleshy layer, about one inch thick at maturity, is present, which is the kernel (meat) of the coconut. Fruits survive up to 120 days afloat in seawater and are dispersed by ocean currents. There are two distinct varieties, tall and dwarf and tall varieties are commonly cultivated around the world.

Uses: Coconut palm is a multiple use tree and considered as one of the ten most useful trees in the world. It plays an important role in the economy and food and nutritional security of the people of the Maldives. Mature kernel is eaten as food and shredded kernel is used in curries, sweets and desserts. Cream extracted from the kernel is also used in curries and sweets and flavouring of a variety of local dishes including fish curries. Oil extracted from dried kernel (copra), which is rich in glycerine, is widely used in cooking and used to make soaps, shampoos, shaving creams, toothpaste, lotions, hydraulic fluid, etc. A sweet juice extracted from a clump of unopened flowers is easily boiled down to syrup, called coconut molasses, which is crystallized into a light brown or dark-coloured sugar. Left standing, it ferments quickly into a beer called "toddy". After a few weeks it becomes vinegar. Husk of the nut contains fibre, which is combed out and sold as coir, a material for making rope and coconut matting. Fibre is resistant to seawater and is used as cables and rigging in ships, for making mats, rugs, bags, brooms and brushes and also as olive oil filter in some European countries. In the Maldives, trunk wood is used for house construction and outer wood, which is hard, heavy, strong and close-grained, is used for boat building. Mature fronds are commonly woven into thatching material, walls of temporary buildings and screens. Shell, which is hard and fine grained, is carved into all kinds of objects including souvenirs, drinking cups, scoops, smoking pipe bowl etc. Charcoal from the shell is used for cooking fires, air filters, in gas masks, submarines and cigarette tips. Regarding uses in traditional medicine, young leaves are used in the Maldives in the preparation of rughaglu beys used to treat muscle sprains and bone fracture. It is an excellent source of firewood; various part of the tree such as leaf stalk, husk of the nut, leaflets, rachis etc., are used as firewood. It is one of the ideal species for coastal bioshield and can play an important role in it as a commercially important tree.

Varieties of coconut: In the Maldives, the following varieties of coconut are commonly found: Nulu ruh (tall variety with green-coloured fruit), Rathu ruh (tall with red-coloured fruit), Kuhi ruh (tall variety with green- and red-coloured fruit), Jafanah ruh (short variety with green-coloured fruit) and Dhanbu ruh (short variety with red-coloured fruit). Among these, rathu ruh is more abundant and both rathu and nulu ruh are cultivated mainly for oil. The famous kurumbapani of the Maldives is the coconut milk of dhanbu ruh.

Ecology, propagation and management: Coconut palm prefers a year-round warm and humid climate. Rainfall in the range of 1500 to 2500 mm, distributed evenly throughout the year and relative humidity above 60% provide ideal climate for the vigorous growth and yield. Presence of water table within easy reach of roots can offset inadequate rainfall. It is well adapted to a wide variety of soils though coarse sand in the coastal areas is its natural habitat. It grows well in deep soil and cultivated in a large scale in loamy and clayey soil that has good drainage. It tolerates saline and infertile soils but tolerance to drought is limited. It also tolerates wind-driven salt very well. It has capacity to withstand cyclonic winds provided roots are well anchored. It is propagated only by seed and does not multiply vegetatively. Seeds can be collected from mature nuts, which are indicated by dryness of the husk and turning of outer layer from green to brown. Seed nuts are buried two-third of their length in coarse soil to reduce the loss of nut water through evaporation. Depending on the type, germination can occur four to six weeks after sowing and continue over an eight week period; regular watering during this period is necessary. Germinating nuts with the first compound leaf fully developed are the best to be transferred to the nursery. Seedlings raised in-ground should be outplanted not later than six months old whereas seedlings raised in container can be planted at about eight to ten months.

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