| Arenga (ah-REHN-gah) |
Gerardo Herrero's Farm, 2008 Costa Rica. 2008 IPS Biennial. Photo by Ryan D. Gallivan.
Habitat and DistributionArenga pinnata is found in Assam, Benin, China South-Central, China
It is adapted to elevations between sea level and 1,400 meters. It grows wild in primary or secondary forests, especially on sites poor in nutrients and in denuded hillsides.
It is found naturally growing in the Phillippines, oftenly along river banks from low to middle elevations. It is estimated that there are about 4.67 million kaong palms in its dipteroarp forests (Neri, undated). Its fruits are scattered by wild hogs, fruit bats and civet cat.
Height: 58 ft. tall, Leaf: Pinnate, 20 to 25 leaves per crown, very dark green top, silvery bottom, erect, up to 12 meters long. Trunk: Covered with black fibers and spines., 15 to 20 inches in diameter (40 to 50 cm). Flower: Showy yellow flowers. As most of the Caryotas and Arengas, after the tree finishes blooming, it dies, (monocarpic), Flower stalk coming from among the leaves, much longer than the leaves. Fruit: purple. 1.5 inches in diameter (4 cm). round to oval, containing generally 3 seeds, takes over one year to ripen. Kaong is a monoecious solitary palm. The trunk is up to 15-20 m with a diameter of about 30-40 cm. Leaves are pinnate, up to 8.5 m long. Leaf sheaths with fibrous black hairs cover the stem. Axillary inflorescences arise singly first from the top and continue downward until the palm dies. Fruits turn yellow at maturity, having a diameter of about 5 cm. Fruit: Colour Red, each fruit has 2-3 seeds. This palm first flowers when around 10-12 years old; however, sometimes it flowers as early as 5-6 years. Maturity is indicated by simultaneous appearance of 2 short leaves at the top of the stem. The average flowering period of an untapped tree is 4-6 years; on the other hand, Florido and De Mesa (2003) presented a report that flowering starts at 12 to 16 years depending on the elevation. Editing by edric.
In General Santos City which has a dry climate and low elevation, a kaong palm that was grown from a wildling in 1998 started flowering in 6-7 years. The topmost inflorescence emerged at a height of about 3.5 meters from the ground. In 2007 (9 years after planting), the inflorescences from about one meter high downward were tapped for sap. Last flowering was in 2009, 11 years from planting.
Min. Temperature: 28°F (-2°C), Germination: Easy germination in 2 to 6 weeks when fresh.Low salt tolerance, Moderate drought tolerance, Widely adaptable to many soil types, Growth in Zones 10B through 13, Moderate feeding requirement, Growth Rate: Moderate, Human Hazards: Irritant: Oxylate crystals. Kaong is a promising cash crop with potential for the establishment of plantations or, at the least, for deliberate growing to supplement the natural stands.
Comments and Curiosities
It has been noted that the worldwide demand for processed kaong continue to grow, but the supply of raw materials is limited by the number and accessibility of natural stands. These natural sources are dispersed.
Why This Crop: Also called gomuti and sweet palm (Arenga pinnata), this plant has multiple uses. Practically all parts, from root to apex, are useful.
In the Philippines, its major product is the sweetened, cooked meat (endosperm) from young fruits. Average number of fruits per inflorescence is 480. Every tree produces 5,000 to 7,000 seeds.
The average flowering period of an untapped tree is 4-6 years (ICRAF, undated).
Another product is the sweet sap (toddy, tuba, saguer) which is obtained by tapping the male inflorescences. An inflorescence can be tapped for 1-2 1/2 months, producing about 5-12 liters of sap per day. This sap can be used as beverage or processed into vinegar, sugar, alcohol or animal feed. Sugar yields may be about 70 kg/day per ha or 25 t/ha per year.
Black fiber, called gomuti, yumot, cabonegro and ijuk, can also be collected from the bases of petioles of mature palms. This fiber is used in the manufacture of sea water-resistant rope, brushes and other materials. As early as 1821, it was reported that 439,450 sugar palms were harvested for the fiber in Indonesia, yielding as much as 300,000 ropes from a single factory in one month.
When the palm trees are more than 30 years old or about to die, they are cut down for sago, the starchy layer on the inner part of the trunk. Sago yields may be up to 100-150 kg/tree.
Constraints: The major constraints in the commercialized growing of kaong are the following: (1) long juvenile (vegetative) phase of growth (10-16 years from planting, but there are reports of 5-6 years); (2) short productive phase (the exact duration is uncertain but the reported maximum age at cutting for sago is above 30 years from planting); and (3) lack of reliable information on the production and profitability of the crop.
Why Still Grow?
It’s called “gut feeling.” It’s about supply and demand. When supply is low but demand is high, the price is high. There is profit, therefore, for the first to control the supply. The products from kaong and their processing methods are known to the traditional farmers and so a farmer has the option to market his produce raw or processed.
As to the adaptation of the crop, it is known to thrive in harsh climate and poor soils. It is also resistant to insect pests and diseases. It can be easily favored by marginal farmers. If it can grow by itself in the wild, then it can grow better under domestication.
As for the cultural requirements, the basics of crop farming apply to all crops. Details, like distance of planting, can be obtained from similar plants like coconut. The botany of the crop and actual observation of a live specimen will also give revealing information on its management. The experience to be yet acquired and personal experimentation will do the rest.
In far-flung barangays where kaong fruits are harvested from natural stands, wide portions of farms are still underutilized. The farmers only need to be made aware of the potentials of this crop and be given technical and marketing assistance. Essentially, the only question that need to be answered is “how much will I surely earn?”
On the long juvenility and short life span of the crop, this will not matter so much in farms which are underutilized. What will matter much are market price and stability. In Indonesia, the short life span fits well into the practiced rotation cycles of shifting cultivation which are usually between 12 and 15 years in traditional systems.
The fabulous Sugar Palm of the Phillipines Islands archepeligo is duly noted as one the the world's most economically important palms for products of human consumption. The Arenga pinnata is a solitary species, related to Caryota mitis (Fishtail Palm), that produces an erect crown of verey large leaves and fibrous trunk spines. At about 20 years of age, it begins flowering, fruiting, and will soon after, expire, (monocarpic). It is cultivated as a primary source of sugar throughout Eastern Asia, and India. The sweet juice is collected from cut flower stalks and boiled down into table sugar, or fermented into an alcoholic beverage, similar to rum. The Sugar palm's moisture-resistant fibers were once rather important in manufacturing but have more recently been supplanted by synthetic fibers. All fruits of Arenga species contain extremely irritating concentrations of oxylate crystals (that can cause gout-like pain!) It can get BIG. Not fast, but large, like a Caryota gigas. Used as a source of "sago" or palm sugar, by the people in its southeast Asian habitat.
- Glossary of Palm Terms
- MODERN BOTANICAL LATIN
- "Just To Be Clear"
- Click on Arecacaea, for list of photos
Phonetic spelling of Latin names by edric.
Special thanks to Geoff Stein, (Palmbob) for his hundreds of photos, edric.
Special thanks to Palmweb.org, Dr. John Dransfield, Dr. Bill Baker & team, for their volumes of information and photos, edric.
Glossary of Palm Terms; Based on the glossary in Dransfield, J., N.W. Uhl, C.B. Asmussen-Lange, W.J. Baker, M.M. Harley & C.E. Lewis. 2008. Genera Palmarum - Evolution and Classification of the Palms. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. All images copyright of the artists and photographers (see images for credits).
Many Special Thanks to Ed Vaile for his long hours of tireless editing and numerous contributions.