The palm tree is a flowering plant indigenous to tropical and subtropical regions. Palm trees of various species have been utilized for their practical applications since the birth of civilization. The use of palm leaves by humans is mentioned in historic texts such as the Bible and the Qur'an. Palm leaves hold great economical value and are cultivated for the production of a wide range of useful products.
Indigenous tribes of tropical regions have long used palm leaves for their fibrous properties to produce woven and hand-crafted household items. Palm leaflets are typically sewn together to form plaits, which constitute the skeletal structure of baskets, mats, sacks, fans and hats, according to the FAO Corporate Document Repository website. A useful cord is made by rolling leaf fibers into strands. The cord is helpful for tying bundles of plants and vegetables. Palm leaf cords are also used to create nets for transporting cargo and forage. Fishnets and open hammocks are also created with palm leaf cords, while heavier cords act as climbing ropes that are used to scale trees during palm leaf harvesting. Dwarf palm leaf fibers are commonly placed within furniture as mattress or cushion stuffing.
Palm leaves of every species have been used as the roofing and partition material of huts. When constructed correctly, palm leaf roofs are extremely durable and water-resistant while remaining porous enough to allow ventilation from cooking flames and promote proper air circulation. Traditionally, a thick mud layer is used to adhere whole palm leaves to the ceiling beams of hatches. Palm leaflets make excellent partitions and terraces. Young, flexible leaves are selected and cut to overlap on top of huts. A palm leaf roof will last for approximately two years, depending on the leaf species and surrounding climate conditions.
Palm leaves are one of the oldest and cheapest writing materials in existence, according to the International Palm Society website. They were used extensively throughout India as far back as the year 790. Ancient Ayurvedic texts, religious documents and horoscopes were commonly etched into palm leaves. Sanskrit letters were inscribed into the leaf's flesh with an iron stylus. To create writing material, partially-matured palm leaves were dried, cut to size and rubbed with oil. The leaves underwent an extensive boiling and oiling process, in order to reduce acid content and close the leave's pores. In this manner, palm leaves were transformed into resilient and waterproof writing material. The inscription of horoscopes into palm leaves is a thriving tradition in modern day India.
- Photo Credit Palm leaf image by Nikolay Okhitin from Fotolia.com
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