The Giant fishtail palm or Thai giant caryota (Caryota obtusa Griff., 1845) is an arboreal species belonging to the Arecaceae family.
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Species C. obtusa.
The terms are synonymous:
– Caryota gigas Hahn;
– Caryota gigas Hahn ex Hodel;
– Caryota obtusidentata Griff.;
– Caryota rumphiana var. indica Becc..
The term Caryota comes from the Latin noun of Greek derivation “caryota, ae”, i.e. date, fruit of the palm.
The specific epithet obtusa comes from the Latin “obtusus, a, um”, i.e. blunt, obtuse, in reference to the blunt serration present on the apex of the leaflets.
Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Caryota obtusa is a plant native to an area that includes: China (Yunnan), India (Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and Manipur), Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.
Its habitat is that of the edges of humid mountain forests between 1200 and 1800 m above sea level.
Caryota obtusa is a monoecious and monocarpic palm that grows to a height of over 30 meters in its natural state and no higher than 10-15 meters in cultivation.
It has a solitary cylindrical stem, 40-80 cm in diameter (up to 90 at the base), which often has a swelling towards the central part; furthermore it is equipped at the base with a cone of aerial roots with a support function; this has a light gray colour, with signs of leaf scars, 20-30 cm away, of fallen leaves, and covered by a thin blackish tomentum near the crown.
The leaves are located on a 1-2 meter long petiole, provided with blackish fibers at the edges; they are bipinnate (except the young ones) and have a triangular profile, 4-6 m long and over 3 m wide, with 18-22 primary fins on both sides of the rachis, up to about 3 m long with the terminal part curved downwards, and obliquely cuneiform leathery leaves, 20-30 cm long and 7-12 cm wide, with toothed-crenate apex.
The inflorescences are somewhat branched, borne by a robust peduncle and hanging; they are 3-6 m long, with first-order ramifications, produced in sequence from top to bottom (basipetal); these bear yellowish unisexual flowers arranged in triads, with a female flower between the two male ones; the male flowers ripen before the female ones (protandry), thus favoring cross-fertilization. The flowering of this plant continues for a few years and when the fruits of the lowest inflorescence ripen the plant dies.
The fruits have a globular shape and a reddish color when ripe; they are 2.5-3.5 cm in diameter; the pulp is irritating due to the presence of needle-like crystals of calcium oxalate, so they must be handled with caution.
Inside the fruits there are one or, more often, two seeds.
The Caryota obtusa is a palm of absolute ornamental effect, due to its enormous leaves, but having a rather short life, around 15-20 years, it is not suitable, also due to its size, for small and medium gardens; it also creates problems when removing leaves and dead plants.
This plant is however cultivated in humid and marginally temperate-warm tropical and subtropical regions, where it can resist temperature values around -3 °C for short periods. For its cultivation it requires full sun, except light in the juvenile phase where it benefits from a light shade. From a pedological point of view, it prefers rich, draining soils, with pH ranging from slightly acidic to slightly alkaline, kept humid, even if it resists short periods of drought, but with slower growth.
The plant reproduces by seed, which must first be kept in water for two days, in an organic, draining substrate and kept constantly humid at a temperature of 26-28 °C; in these conditions germination times are 1-3 months.
Customs and Traditions –
The Caryota obtusa is a palm known by various common names depending on the area where it grows, among these we remember: black trunk palm, fishtail palm, giant fishtail palm, mountain fishtail palm, Thai mountain giant palm (English); dong zong (China); bura suwar (India); tao rang yak, tao rang yak nan, tao rang yak phukha (Thailand).
This plant was described in the late 1840s by William Griffith in northeastern India. We know that there is a huge Caryota, which, from photographs, appears indistinguishable from the huge Caryota of Yunnan, Laos and north-east Thailand: they are found close enough together to suggest a contiguous distribution, probably also in Burma. The population in China is called C. urens in the Flora of China, but it is clearly not that species. In Thailand, the palm is called C. gigas Don Hodel. However, the systematic review work is continuing and therefore further clarifications will be available later.
This plant is used in the food sector. The heart of the stem is used from which starch is obtained which is used in various food preparations and uses.
Preparation Method –
Caryota obtusa is a plant that is cultivated and has significantly declined in its natural state.
In fact, the central part of the stem, rich in starch, is used in some places as food, cutting the stem before flowering, which has caused a decrease in the number of specimens in nature.
– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora d’Italia, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.
Attention: Pharmaceutical applications and food uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; we therefore decline any responsibility for their use for healing, aesthetic or food purposes.