ARECACEAE – Areca – Areca catechu


Palm family

Acecaceae includes approximately 2oo genera of evergreen solitary or clustering trees or stemless shrubs, rarely climbers, from tropcical and mild temperate  regions. The architecture of palms is elegant and diverse. Though unfamiliar to many, inflorescencess and fruit are often highly ornamental. Leaves are compound, some with pinnate leaflets arranged  along a midrib  and sometimes with an elongated petiole base that sheathes the top of the trunk. Other palms have palmately compound leaves, with the leaflets spreading fanlike and radiating from a disklike structure at the end of the petiole. Costapalmate leaves are also fan – shaped but somewhat folded lengthwise, the sides arching, with the bases congested on a short rachis. Fishtail palms are the only bipinnately leafed palms, with a branched rachis and wedge – shaped leaflets. Palm leaflets may be partially fused along their edgess or completely free, juvenile leaflets are  often more fused than adults. Flowers are small. in many – flowered panicles. The inflorescence is subtended by a spathelike bract.

The apical meristem at the apex of the trunk or stalk is the only growing point. It cannot be cut bacck without   killing the individual stem, making it very important to select palms of appropriate mature height. Palms are susceptible to a variety of diseases and pests. Lethal yellowing disease has devasstated sussceptible species where it occurs. Palms often develop nutritional deficiencies in alkaline soils and need supplemental micronutrients. Photos of the trunks and leaf scar patterns are provided here because they are often ornamental and excellent field marks that are easily observed at eye level. Palmswere photographed primarily at Faichild Tropical Garden and the Montgomery  Botanical Center.


Areca includes approximately 60 species of solitary and clustering palms from Southeast Asia, Malaysia, India, and New Guinea. The origin of some species is obscured by centuries of cultivation. Leaves are pinnate. Male and female flowers are on the same plant. These palms, from tropical rainforest understory, are sensitive to cold. In the United States, they grow outdoors only in Hawaii and protected areas of South Florida. In Southeast Asia, the nut of A, catechu is sometimes chewed with piper betle leaves and lime as a mild narcotic. The mixture stains saliva red. This practice fed legends of island cannibals and bequeathed Bloody Mary her name in the musical South Pacific. The nut, chewed by itself, is sometimes used as a toothbrush.

Betel nut palm, areca nut, pinang, bonga

Origin obscure, cultivated from Southeast Asia to New Guinea. Solitary palm, 30 – 100 ft, zone 11. Blooms intermittently in warm, wet months. Moist and humid. Fertile, well drained soil. Bright broken light. Flowers: unisexual, mostly male, a few female flowers near the base of the inflorescence, fragrant, inflorescence resembles an upturned whisk broom, fruit orange. Leaves: pinnate, leaflets fused almost to the edge of the leaf, crown shaft slender, green. Cultivated for millennia. Possibly a cultigen. Wild populations unknown. Flowers are used to make perfume. Cold sensitive.


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