An Eco-sustainable World
ArborealSpecies Plant

Oncosperma horridum

Oncosperma horridum

The thorny palm (Oncosperma horridum (Griff.) Scheff., 1872) is an arboreal species belonging to the Arecaceae family.

Systematic –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Division Magnoliophyta,
Class Liliopsida,
Subclass Arecidae,
Order Arecales,
Arecaceae family,
Subfamily Arecoideae,
Tribe Areceae,
Subtribe Oncospermatinae,
Genus Oncosperma,
Species O. horridum.
The term is basionym:
– Areca horrida Griff..

Etymology –
The term Oncosperma comes from the words onco-ònco-, coming from the Greek ὄγκος, i.e. volume, mass, mole, body that makes volume and from the late Latin late sperma, which derives from the Greek σπέρμα, i.e. seed, in reference to the surface of the seeds of plant.
The specific epithet horridum derives from the Latin horridus, a, um, that is, bristly, bristling, hirsute, prickly, due to the presence of sharp thorns on the trunk and on the petioles of the leaves.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Oncosperma horridum is a palm that grows spontaneously in a large area of south-east Asia which includes: Thailand, Malaysia, Borneo, the Philippines, Sulawesi and Sumatra.
Its habitat is that of lowland rainforests up to the mountain slopes, at altitudes of 1,000 m. but which can reach up to 1,500 meters with their crowns sometimes reaching the canopy of the rainforest.

Description –
Oncosperma horridum is a monoecious palm, with a slender, multicaule stem, and armed with sharp thorns on the trunk and on the petioles of the leaves with occasionally solitary grouping, with very dense crowns.
The stem is gray in color and can reach 20 m in height and a diameter of 25 cm.
The leaves are pinnate with horizontal or almost horizontal leaflets, 2-3 m long. The pinnules are pointed, bright green in color and uniformly arranged on the sides of the rachis on a single plane, slightly hanging, up to 50 cm long and 3 cm wide. The leaves are supported by dark thorny petioles up to 1 m long which end in a green-grey sheath that completely envelops the trunk, up to 1 m long, also thorny.
All parts are covered with massive black spines, mostly directed downwards. The inflorescences are large, yellow and form under the leaves.
The flowers are monoecious and arranged in a spiral, arranged in triads composed of two male flowers and one female flower; they are grouped in large yellow inflorescences that emerge under the sheath in correspondence with the rings on the stem and are branched and thorny, up to 60 cm long. These are initially enclosed in a grey, deciduous, very spiny spathe.
The fruit is ovate in shape, green in color turning to brown, then black when ripe, 1.5 to 2 cm wide, waxy.

Cultivation –
Oncosperma horridum is an evergreen palm that is particularly prized in its native range for its edible apical bud and which is harvested in the wild. The tree also provides useful timber.
These plants thrive in humid tropical climates where temperatures never drop below 10°C, the average annual rainfall is 1,500mm or more and the driest month has 25mm or more of rain.
This palm is very ornamental but is not frequently widespread outside south-east Asia, also because the similar species Oncosperma tigillarium is preferred in cultivation due to its superior aesthetic qualities.
Furthermore, the presence of dangerous thorns on all parts of the plant must be taken into account when planning to use it in parks and gardens.
Furthermore, it can only be grown in hot tropical or subtropical climates, considering that exposure to temperatures between 5 °C and 10 °C can damage and even kill the plants. It needs a lot of environmental humidity and becomes marginal in areas where rainfall in the driest month does not reach at least 25 mm.
This palm grows very fast and adapts to any type of soil but prefers moist, well-drained ones with easy access to water. Exposure must be in full sun, although in the juvenile stage it is preferable to keep it in partial shade. It resists saltiness and brackish water very well.
As regards reproduction, this occurs by seed which germinates in less than 2 months; this must be previously immersed in warm water for 24 hours and then placed in a container on a hot bed at a temperature of 28 °C.

Customs and Traditions –
Oncosperma horridum is a palm known by various common names including: Bayas (Malay); Nibong (Indonesian); Lao cha on khao (Thai); Mountani Nibong palm, Thorny palm (English); Ba ya ye zi (Chinese).
This palm can be found growing in the Central Catchment Reserve, in relative abundance in some locations.
In this area the caterpillars of the Pyroneura Latoia Latoia butterfly feed on the leaves of this plant and live in shelters made by joining the edges of the leaf fragments with silk threads. The eggs are laid individually on the upper surface of a leaflet of the host plant.
This palm is a close relative of the Oncosperma tigillarium, of the mangroves. Both species have stems that are resistant to seawater and are often used in building kelongs (wooden structures on silts in the sea for raising or catching fish).
It is a palm particularly appreciated in its area of origin for its edible apical bud, used in various ways in local cuisine. The leaves are woven to make baskets and other objects and are also used to cover homes.
The sturdy but elastic stems are used in the construction of houses, as foundations and as flooring, and are preferred to those of other plants due to their long life.
Regarding its ecological status, its conservation status has not yet been verified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The species is considered vulnerable in some sites of its distribution range, where it is present only in protected areas.

Preparation Method –
Oncosperma horridum is a palm used for various purposes and particularly appreciated for the apical bud which is cooked and eaten as a vegetable.
However, removing the shoot actually kills the trunk as it is unable to produce lateral branches. However, since it is a clump-forming species, it is possible to eat some shoots from a clump without killing it.
Fruits are also eaten occasionally.
The seeds are sometimes used as a substitute for betel (Areca catechu).
Among other uses, the leaves are used for weaving baskets.
The external section of the trunk is used. Stronger and more durable than most other palms.
The barrel is particularly resistant in both salt and fresh water.
It is used for housing construction, especially for the foundation piles of elevated houses, and is also divided into flooring boards, walls, boat building, etc.

Guido Bissanti

– 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.

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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.

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