Monday, 21 January 2013

Nypa fruticans

Otherwise known as Nipah palm, this palm is native to India and Sri Lanka. 

As a mangrove palm, the Nipah palm is able to anchor itself in soft, muddy soil conditions where there is regular flow of nutritious silt. While the palm does not seem to have a noticeable trunk, the base of the frond is filled with air to help it stay upright. The fronds grow out of a dense cluster.

Female flowers resemble a cone while male flowers resemble a spike and turn golden yellow and sticky when mature. 

The fruits of the Nipah palm grow in clusters to form a large and round ball, around the size of a soccer ball, which rises from the mud on a stick. When it matures and ripens, the ball breaks away and breaks up into smaller individual fruits and germinate as they float. 

The Nipah palm is known as a “plant of a thousand uses”. In the past, the leaves of this palm were used for roof-thatching. Its seeds, known as “Attap Chee”, are commonly added to a local dessert, ice-kachang. The Nipah Palm is an increasingly rare sight in Singapore as most of the mangrove areas are reclaimed to make way for urban development.

The young translucent-white chewy seeds ('attap chee') are edible, usually boiled in sugar syrup and added to local deserts. Inflorescence stalk are cut off before flowers open, and tapped for a sweet liquid that can be boiled to yield a brown sugar called 'gula melaka', which can be fermented into an alchoholic drink called 'toddy', or fermented for several more months to yield a vinegar. Flower sheaths can be made into an aromatic tea and young palm shoots are also edible. 

In agriculture, the sap also used to fatten up pigs in parts of Indonesia during dry season when fodder is scarce. Sugar-rich sap can also be distilled into industrial ethanol and biofuel. 

The dried fronds are used to make roof thatch (attap), or weaved into baskets, mats and hats. Young frondlets can be used to roll cigarettes. Ash collected from burnt frondlets can be used to make a type of salt. 

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