Borassus flabellifer

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Borassus (BOR-rahs-suhs)
flabellifer (flah-bel-LIF-ehr)
Scientific Classification
Genus: Borassus (BOR-rahs-suhs)
flabellifer (flah-bel-LIF-ehr)
Borassus flabelliformis, Borassus tunicatus, Borassus sundaicus.
Native Continent
Habit: Solitary
Leaf type: Palmately compound
Sun exposure: Full Sun
Survivability index
Common names
Asian Palmyra palm, Toddy palm, Sugar palm, or Cambodian palm. Kerigi (Soqotra), Mak tan kok (Lao), Panna-maram (Tamil, Sri Lanka), Taan, Than or T¯an (Thai). There are many other names applied to this widespread species (see Kovoor 1983), but the name palmyrah (or palmyra), derived from the Portuguese palmeira, has become the internationally familiar vernacular name. (R.P. Bayton. 2007)/Palmweb.

Habitat and Distribution

Borassus flabellifer is found in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China South-Central,
Female tree, showing foliage crown with fruit.
India, Jawa, Laos, Lesser Sunda Is., Malaya, Myanmar, Socotra, Sri Lanka, Sulawesi, Thailand, and Vietnam. South and Southeast Asia. Determining the ‘natural’ distribution of Borassus flabellifer is essentially impossible as it is a widely planted crop plant. It is largely restricted to areas with seasonal rainfall and ranges from western India through Indochina to the Lesser Sunda Islands of Indonesia.

Populations in China, Malaysia and Pakistan may be introduced (Whitmore 1973; Malik 1984; Pei 1991). Borassus flabellifer was noted to occur in Queensland, Australia by Bailey (1902). A seedling was collected from a small population of mature palms and cultivated in the garden of Frank L. Jardine in Somerset on the Cape York Peninsula of northern Queensland. Jones (1984) noted that the palm was still present in the garden of Jardine’s abandoned house, but the original population was never located and the natural occurrence of Borassus in Australia is doubtful. The Borassus palms on the island of Soqotra have tentatively been assigned to B. flabellifer. Soqotra is geographically closer to Africa and the palms were identified as the African B. aethiopum by Miller & Morris (2004). The available herbarium material does not allow for a conclusive identification (the diagnostic fruits and petiole spines are missing), but a photograph presented by Miller & Morris (2004) shows a mature plant without a ventricose stem. This suggests that the palms, which were introduced to the island, are B. flabellifer. It is difficult to determine the original habitat of B. flabellifer as its distribution is so heavily influenced by man. It occurs between sea level and 800 metres, though is more abundant at low altitude and is particularly common in coastal areas with sandy or alluvial soils and in areas with permanent soil moisture such as flood plains and river valleys. It is commonly grown along the margins of rice paddies forming one of the most distinctive landscapes of Southeast Asia. (R.P. Bayton. 2007)/Palmweb.

Native to South and Southeast Asia, in the Indomalaya ecozone. It's a palm tree of the Sugar palm group, is found from Indonesia to Pakistan.


Stem to 20 m tall, trunk diam. over a meter at its widest point (a prominent flair in the trunk half way up), grey with well-defined leaf scars, not ventricose, but often enlarged at the base, branching occasionally when damaged. Leaves, 40 - 70 per crown, leaves petiole and sheath 150 – 180 cm long; petiole 4 – 6 (– 7) cm wide at midpoint, robust, bright yellow, margins black with short (0.3 – 1.3 cm) black erose teeth; costa 60 – 110 cm long; adaxial hastula conspicuous, abaxial hastula rudimentary; lamina radius to 150 cm maximum, dense adaxial and abaxial indumentum on the ribs of some juvenile leaves, leaflets ~62, 4.2 – 9.5 cm wide, apices acute and entire or splitting longitudinally with age, shortest leaflet 13 – 39 cm long, leaf divided to 30 – 100 cm; commissural veins 11 – 18 per cm, leaf anatomy isolateral. Staminate inflorescences branched to two orders, upper subtending branches terminating in 1 – 3 (– 4) rachillae; rachillae green to brown and catkin-like, 23 – 50 cm long and 1.8 – 2.5 cm in diameter, sometimes with a mamilliform apex, rachilla bracts forming pits containing a cincinnus of 4 – 7 flowers. Pistillate inflorescences usually spicate (branched inflorescence pictured in the lectotype), flower-bearing portion 12 – 85 cm long with 5 – 20 flowers arranged spirally. Staminate flowers exserted from pits individually, 0.24 – 0.6 cm long, bracteoles 0.4 – 0.7 × 0.1 – 0.3 cm, calyx 0.3 × 0.15 cm and shallowly divided into three sepals, petal lobes 0.1 × 0.1 cm; stamens 6 with very short filaments, 0.2 × 0.03 cm, anthers, 0.05 × 0.03 cm; pistillode minute. Pollen monosulcate, elliptical, 48 – 95 μm long, aperture 40 – 95 μm long, polar axis 30 – 89 μm long; tectum perforate, sparsely covered with supratectal gemmae. Pistillate flowers 3 × 3 cm; bracteoles large, 2 cm in diam., sepals 1.5 × 2 cm, petals 1 × 1.5 cm. Fruits massive, 8.5 – 13 × 7.5 – 16.5 cm, yellowish black, ovoid and rounded or flattened at the apex; produced inside persistent perianth segments; epicarp coriaceous, mesocarp pulp yellow, pyrenes 1 – 3, 6.1 – 10.8 cm × 4.4 – 8.5 cm × 3.1 – 4.6 cm, somewhat bilobed; most pyrenes with one or two external, longitudinal furrows; internal flanges absent. (R.P. Bayton. 2007)/Palmweb. Editing by edric.


Borassus flabellifer has a growth pattern, very large size, and clean habits that make it an attractive ornamental tree, cultivated for planting in gardens and parks as landscape palm species. Hot, sunny, well drained position. Drought tolerant, cold sensitive. The seed is best germinated in its final position, since it very much resents being moved once established.

Comments and Curiosities

External Links


Phonetic spelling of Latin names by edric.

Special thanks to Geoff Stein, (Palmbob) for his hundreds of photos.

Special thanks to, Dr. John Dransfield, Dr. Bill Baker & team, for their volumes of information and photos.

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).

Bayton, R.P.2007. A revision of Borassus L. (Arecaceae). Kew Bulletin 62: 561-586.

Many Special Thanks to Ed Vaile for his long hours of tireless editing and numerous contributions.

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