Palm Tree (Borassus flabellifer): The National Tree of Cambodia

The palm tree is a kind of plant that has been widely grown in Cambodia for a long time ago. The palm tree, commonly known as Borassus flabellifer in scientific name and in Khmer called “Tnaot”, is native to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, including Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Lao, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines.  

Palm Tree (Borassus flabellifer): The National Tree of Cambodia
Palm Tree (Borassus flabellifer): The National Tree of Cambodia

It is a robust tree and can reach a height of 30 meters. The trunk is grey, robust, and ringed with leaf scars; old leaves remain attached to the trunk for several years before falling cleanly. The leaves are fan-shaped and 3 m long, with robust black teeth on the petiole margins. It is dioecious with male and female flowers on separate plants. The male flowers are less than 1 cm long and form semi-circular clusters, which are hidden beneath scale-like bracts within the catkin-like inflorescences. In contrast, the female flowers are golf ball-sized and solitary, sitting upon the surface of the inflorescence axis. After pollination, these blooms develop into fleshy fruits 15–25 cm wide, each containing 1-3 seeds. The fruits are black to brown with sweet, fibrous pulp and each seed is enclosed within a woody endocarp. Young Palmyra seedlings grow slowly, producing only a few leaves each year (establishment phase), but at an as yet undetermined time, they grow rapidly, producing a substantial stem.

Cambodians considered palm trees as a national identity because it shows the extent of Khmer territory from ancient times till today, and it is thought to be their home. In 2003, His Majesty King of the Kingdom of Cambodia requested the government to conserve the palm tree. Palm trees grow in lowland areas because the palm trees do not shade and cannot live long enough to make the water. In Cambodia, the province that has a lot of palm trees is Kompong Speu. Palm trees are strong and provide many benefits to all Cambodians from root to top as we can use them for processing as needed such as materials used, Khmer cake, and foods. For these benefits include:

  1. Unripe fruit: they can be eaten (The fruit measures 10 cm (3.9 in) to 18 cm (7.1 in) in diameter, has a black husk, and is borne in clusters. The top portion of the fruit must be cut off to reveal the sweet jelly seed sockets, translucent pale-white, similar to that of the lychee but with a milder flavor and no pit. The sweet jelly seed sockets occur in combinations of two, three, or four seeds inside the fruit. The jelly part of the fruit is covered with a thin, yellowish-brown skin. These are known to contain watery fluid inside the fleshy white body), because they are delicious and also served as dessert and food vegetables, like Bobor Tnaot, Sam Lor Korko Tnaot (Palm fruit Soup).
  2. Ripe fruit: when ripe can be used as a dessert or cake such as Num Akor Tnaot and Num Ansorm Tnaot.
  3. Palm Juice: the juice is taken from its flowers by taking a wooden pipe to bind to its flower and cut its flowers in order to make the juice flow into the pipe till full. Then, we can take it down from the tree. There are two types of palm juice such as sweet palm juice and sour palm juice. Sour palm juice can be used as alcohol and can be used as needed, especially for parties. While sweet palm juice, can be produced as sugar palm for cooking and selling, its sweet juice can be used to quench thirst and fill our energy. It has a sweet and delicious taste.  
  4. Palm Leaves: Palm leaves are used for various purposes like mats, hats, thatching, fans, baskets, umbrellas, walls, used for religious ceremonies, wrapping and packing food, and writing material (palm-leaf manuscript), and souvenir things. The stem of the leaves can be peeled off and used as rope and also used to weave into cots.  
  5. Trunk: its trunk is very strong and large in size, therefore Cambodians prefer to take it as a boat, a wall, fences, cordage, and brushes (its wiry fiber is suitable for cordage and brushes). The black timber is hard, heavy, and durable and is highly valued for construction. In Cambodia, the trunks are also used to make canoes and furniture such as tables, chairs, beds, etc.

If we compare the palm tree to humans, we see that it is the kind of people who provide more benefits to society and can resist the enemy in all situations, with patience, and is an invaluable resource. Thanks to these benefits, the palm tree is well-known in Cambodia and it can help to improve the lives of the Khmer people. All Cambodians know this plant very well, on one doesn’t know. The palm is deeply injected into the hearts of Cambodians.