The uniqueness of talipot palm

The uniqueness of talipot palm


The uniqueness of talipot palm

We have to be very careful while harvesting the leaves of these shree taale (talipot palm), as the sharp edged spikes could create deep injuries,” cautioned Savalaklu Ishanna. He was harvesting the leaves of talipot palm  to thatch the watch tower that has been built to drive away wild animals from the paddy field.

Corypha umbraculifera, the famous tale palm or tad-patri — the compressed dried leaves on which are found our ancient scriptures (palm-manuscripts), are native to the Western Ghats especially in the forests of Savalaklu, Tenginmudi, Yana, Gersoppa forests in Uttara Kannada and Udupi districts in Karnataka, Malabar coast of Kerala and the Andaman Island. It has also been introduced to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Combodia, Thailand and Indonesia. The plants are often seen in botanical gardens.

Multiple uses
The leaves of this tree have been used for multiple purposes. Two other types of palm leaves used for writing are Corypha taliera and Borassus flabelliformis. Their leaves are also used extensively to thatch the watch tower and houses, for wall protection, for plaiting the mats and as umbrellas during rainy season. There are some reports that the hard coated seeds are also used as ornamentals around the neck in the Arab countries.

Like other palms, the central soft part of the stem of Corypha umbraculifera, is a rich source of starch. Palms are felled to extract this central ‘pith’ which is dried, powdered, stored and used for preparation of bread. The elders from Tenginmudi forest region still remember that people from coastal region used to harvest the palm tree and then carry through cart loads for the purpose of sago. The sago extracted from the palm has been the staple food of many local communities.

The talipot palm is one of the largest palms with individual specimens reaching heights of up to 25 m, with stems up to 1.3 m in diameter. It is considered to be the tree with the largest inflorescence in the world. The huge panicle of white blooms rises from the centre of the cluster of fan-shaped leaves topping the trunk, 20 – 26 ft long, consisting of one to several million small flowers borne on a branched stalk that forms at the top of the trunk. The titan arum, Amorphophallus titanum from the family Araceae, has the largest
un-branched inflorescence, and the species Rafflesia arnoldii produces the world’s largest individual flower.

The talipot palm is monocarpic, flowering only once in its life, when it is 30 to 80 years old. It takes about a year for the fruit to mature, producing thousands of rounded, yellow-green fruit 3–4 cm in diameter, each containing a single seed. The plant dies after fruiting. A single tree yields more than 250 kg of seeds.

Monocarpic nature, extensive use of its foliage and pith of stems have led to the destruction of this species in its natural habitat. Pollination is done by special insects and hence the conditions are much more complex. The pollination efficiency is affected by several factors and fruit setting is highly dependent on these factors. “Talipot palms require specific microclimate and soil conditions, it is rather difficult to grow them in all types of forests even within the Western Ghats region. Seed predators like Indian porcupine, Indian giant squirrel and wild boars feed on the seeds; hence, special management plan is required during the mast flowering of talipot palm,” says Ashok Bhat, assistant conservator of forests, Sirsi.

Not much is known about the conservation status of talipot palm. Habitat loss, continuous and over harvesting of leaf for various purposes and fire hazards are the major problems linked to it. Threat to the species and threat to the habitat has not been brought to the attention of policy makers, government, development organisations and to the general public. Proper recommendation for action plan should come through participatory action research.

Since the species grow exclusively in wet evergreen climax forest patches, in situ conservation and sustainable production and harvesting could be found helpful. Research on the population biology, reproduction and utilitarian values, investigating and developing market economy for palm sugar or any other product could be considered.