by Muthu Karthick
The dry landscapes of Tamilnadu are often characterized by the dominance of Palmyra Palm trees. Palmyra vegetation is composed of tall grasses and few thickets. Globally spread across India and Burma, the tree finds itself as an integral part of ecosystem as well in cultural values of people. The slow growing young trees are rugged which helps the tender climbers and other herbaceous flora to flourish around them. Southern Tamilnadu is conspicuous with these tall black palms, sometimes thinned to a grove too. As a perennial tree the native people keep the plant for demarcating boundaries in agricultural lands. Some of the avifauna associated with this palm are Palm Swift, Indian Roller, Baya weaver etc. Rapid changes in land use are threat to this vegetation.
Panai as the tree called in Tamil has been historically utilized by the people eg., the olais used as writing base centuries ago. Timber is highly durable and used as rafter. Tender endocarp is nutritious and the ripe fruit is treated to extract syrup from it; fronds are used for thatches and the split leaves are used for making baskets and ornamental products. The inflorescence tapped for Toddy from which jaggery is prepared; it has been estimated that a single Palmyra could yield 1.2 laks litres of Toddy. Sprouts from seedlings are used as food. A song from old Tamil literature mentions the 801 uses of this single species. No wonder the tree is a rich source of livelihood for many people dependent on it.