From the huge coconut that the coconut palm produces to edible dates produced by the date palm, palm tree seeds show much variation in size and shape and have many different uses. Members of the genus Palmaceae have been called the “princes of the vegetable kingdom” for their imposing size and regal bearing. They are common in landscaping in Southern California, Florida, Texas, Arizona and Hawaii, and they serve well as potted plants for indoor landscaping in other areas.
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Palm trees typically have a tall, unbranched trunk that bears very large leaves, or fronds, at its apex. Flowers, which will turn into fruit containing seeds, occur on spikes that can be simple or branching. Most of the 1,100 species of palms are tropical, but some occur in temperate areas, such as the Mediterranean. The Mexican fan palm is hardy down to 18 degrees F and is common in Southern California landscaping.
Because so many species of palms exist, much variation in appearance and use occurs in the fruit and the seeds that are contained inside. The African date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) and the Senegal date palm (Phoenix reclinata) produce edible drupe fruits known as dates, which contain an elongated seed, up to 1 inch in length. Coconuts are called “dry drupes” because of the thick husk surrounding the large seed, which is what we call the coconut. Other species produce fruit that is covered with scales.
Many species of palms produce seeds that are round and the size of a walnut. All palm seeds, regardless of size, have an endosperm, which serves as food for the tiny plant embryo. For example, the date’s hard seed is considered the endosperm, while the coconut has a softer endosperm in the form of its white, oily flesh. Some palm seeds are called nuts, as with the Areca palm. Palm growers often begin new trees from seeds they collect from mature palms.
Some types of palm seeds are edible and used in recipes such as pastries. One recipe from Southeast Asia is the Kanom Look Tan, a puff pastry made with canned Thai sweet palm seeds. These seeds taste sweet, and when they’re sliced and served in syrup, they contribute to a popular dish. The betel nut palm, which is native to Malaya and occurs from India to the Philippines, produces seeds that many people chew for a mild narcotic effect. Other palm seeds, such as those from the starnut palm, are made into jewelry. The Chilean wine palm produces small, edible coconuts called coquitos.
Edible Palm Fruit
The following palm varieties produce edible fruit: Pejibaye palm, coconut, date palm, Senegal date palm, African oil palm, saw palmetto, jelly palm, betel nut, Amazonian starnut palm and the Chilean wine palm. Several palm species are used for the gourmet “heart of palm,” which comprises an entire industry in Central and South America. Overharvesting of wild palm populations has occurred, so it is suggested that you purchase only cultivated heart of palm.