Rattan palm (Calamus species)
The rattan palm is a strong, vine-like, robust climbing plant that differs from other palms in having tough, thin stems and a climbing behavior. It has prickly hooks or whitish spines on the mid-rib of its leaves that it uses to remain attached to the trees on which it grows. Sometimes, mature stems grow to 90 meters (300 feet). The stem has two rows of narrow, feather-shaped leaves with smooth edges, alternately arranged at regular intervals along the stem. Each stem has an active growing point at its tip where new leaves and new stem are produced. The Rattan palm’s whitish flowers are clustered. Its distinctive fruits are rounded and covered with glossy, reddish-brown scales.
Where to Find: The rattan palm is found from tropical Africa through Asia to the East Indies and Australia. It grows mainly in rain forests in the Indonesian tropics. Commercially-used rattan may be found in hilly tropical areas.
Edible Parts: Rattan palms hold a considerable amount of starch in their young stem tips. You can eat them roasted or raw. In other kinds, a gelatinous pulp, either sweet or sour, surrounds the seeds. You can suck out this pulp.
The palm heart (inner core) of new shoots is edible raw or cooked (typically boiled to remove the bitter taste). The new shoots are protected by the overlapping, spiny, green leaf sheaths. Cut the new shoot from the plant and skin the thorns and outer covering. Then cut the whitish shoot into small pieces and boil. Drain the boiled water.
Other Uses: You can obtain large amounts of potable water by cutting the ends of the long stems. The stems can be pealed and used to make baskets and fish traps. The rattan “wood” is of excellent quality and easy to harvest and thus, is in high demand. Some rattan fruits excrete a red resin (known as “dragon’s blood”) that may be used for medicinal purposes or as a dye.