Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The munificent tree - Palmyrah Tree!

Each year in summer we expect the arrival of a delicacy in the market. It takes the heat off our head and cools down the whole body. In my childhood I had also relished on a sweet drink related to that delicacy. These two products are from our Palmyrah tree (Borassus flabellifer, Double palm, Lontar palm, 'Panai maram' in Tamil). The tree has multiple uses from making huts to making palm sugar and what else not? Its black fruits contain the soft, jelly-like delicacy (that I mentioned earlier here) called 'Nuongu' in Tamil (Ice-apple).

The fruit's outer reddish fibrous layer turns sweeter as it ripens. Children make a pair of wheels out of two fruits' emptied shells. They fix a stick between their tops and play on streets by pushing the 'axle' with a long forked stick! Tasty sweet juice trickling down from a cut branch of this palmyrah tree is collected into a pot and used as a beverage. It is called 'Pathaneer' in Tamil. If it is stored without lime smeared inside the pot, it ferments and turns into an intoxicant, the toddy. Even after germinating, the seeds of the tree become a tasty snacks for us! It is called as 'Panankilangu' in Tamil. It is boiled or roasted in fire and consumed.

The tropical palmyrah tree has been used as a bordering tree in dry land farming. It is also seen growing wild on the banks of streams and rivers. There are male and female trees producing male and female flowers. Pollination by the air takes place to produce fruits. The stem wood is used in the place of teak wood as ceiling support in houses. Birds like Palm swifts and Rollers build their nests on it! Leaves are broad and used for thatching huts. Almost the entire tree is used for any household work. In ancient times the processed palm leaves were used as writing paper like that of papyrus! It is called as 'Olai swaddi' in Tamil.
Such a wonder tree provides jobs and income to numerous families in South India, engaging them as toddy - tappers!

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