For the identification of insects and other fauna and flora of South Africa.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ilala Palm (Hyphaene natalensis)

Ilala Palm (Hyphaene natalensis) family Arecaceae

A palm which can grow up to 15m in height and is found at low altitudes in open sandy country. They have a strange bulge halfway up the trunk.

Flowers: sexes separate on different trees.

(Here we go with the pictures coming out sideways again!! WIll they ever fix this problem??? Come on Blogger - get it sorted out!!!!!!!!!!!!!) PLEASE!!!!!!

 The fruits have a thin layer of sweet tasting, ginger-flavoured, spongy pulp and can take up to two years to mature. Elephants and baboons eat the fruit and act as agents for their seed dispersal. When young, it produces a little milk similar to that of coconuts and is relished by the indigenous people.

These palms are widely exploited as a source of wine and many are killed as a result. Local people tap the tree near the growing tip but afterwards the sap hardens as it dries to form a crust over the wound and this must be cut back afterwards before a further supply can be obtained. After three or four weeks of tapping and cutting back the growing-tip will have been entirely removed and the stem inevitably dies.
The wine itself is sweet and only slightly intoxicating and though about 60-70 litres may be obtained from the average tree, this relative innocuous liquor can be distilled to form a highly potent spirit, about two litres are obtained from every 20 litres of wine.
 The hard white kernels of the seeds, closely resembling the commercial “vegetable ivory” of South America, are too small to be of economic importance though they are often used to make trinkets, ornaments or curios.

This is a difficult palm to cultivate: the seeds do not germinate easily and the palms are very slow growing. The massive tap-roots make it almost impossible to transplant the trees once they are established and for these reasons they are rarely seen in gardens.