Botanical name: Bactris gasipaes Kunth
Family: Palmae = Arecaceae
Common names. English:
peach-palm (Trinidad and Tobago), peyibay(e), pejivalle; Spanish:
pejibaye (Costa Rica, Nicaragua), chantaduro (Colombia, Ecuador),
pijuayo (Peru), pijiguao (Venezuela), tembé (Bolivia),
pibá (Panama), cachipay (Colombia); Portuguese: pupunha (Brazil)
was undoubtedly the most important palm of pre-Columbian America and
constituted the main crop of the Amerindians of an extensive territory
of the humid tropics and even some areas of the dry tropics.
organic material easily decomposes in the archaeological sites of the
humid tropics, there are few references to findings of peach-palm
material which enable its past to be reconstructed. The oldest come
from seeds found in various localities on the two coasts of Costa Rica
and date from 2300 to 1700 BC, when it is assumed that it was already
cultivated. When contact with Europeans took place, accounts indicate
that it was the main crop and sustenance of the indigenous population
of the humid tropics of Costa Rica. The importance of the peach-palm
also extended to numerous tribes of lower Central America and the humid
tropics of South America, scattered across the basins of the Cauca,
Magdalena, San Juan, Orinoco and Amazon.
Rivers and their
tributaries as well as certain other areas. This dependence is still
seen nowadays in some communities, such as the Sanema Yanoama of
Venezuela, the Shuars or Jivaros of Ecuador and the Yuracarés of
Bolivia. During the years of the settlement and basically during this
century, the crop has decreased in importance for various reasons.
these, we may mention the reduction in the indigenous population; the
loss of traditions through European influence alien to these cultures
and to this crop; the establishment of urban centres outside the areas
of the humid tropics, where it was not traditional to grow or eat the
peach-palm; the perishable nature of the fruit and the palmetto of this
palm which, in the absence of processing industries, did not allow it
to be traded with the new urban centres; the introduction of new
short-cycle food crops; the aggressive expansion of stock farming which
brought with it the extensive use of fire for land clearance and the
establishment of pasture land; and, finally, soil compaction as a
result of trampling by livestock. Fire, competition and soil compaction
are not tolerated by this palm.
Uses and nutritional value
The use of B. gasipaes
pre-Columbian times was complete. The fruit, its most important
product, was used in two ways: cooked (boiled in water) and as a
slightly fermented cool drink. In both forms, it constituted the basic
food during the harvesting period in the indigenous communities which
grew it. For consumption out of season, it was preserved mainly in
ensiled form and prepared in a very similar way to today, with storage
in trench silos made in the ground. One month after being covered over,
it was ready for consumption or could be stored until the next harvest.
This fermented material was consumed mixed with water as a cool drink.
It could also be carried wrapped in leaves during journeys and merely
had to be diluted in water for consumption. Another important form of
preservation was drying the fruit, exposing it to heat and smoke and
then placing it on mats suspended above a fire. To be eaten, it just
had to be boiled in water. It was also eaten in the form of tortillas
made from its dough, as with maize, or as farinha. The oil, which
separates out when the fruit is boiled, was occasionally used for
cooking other foods. Prolonged fermentation - lasting one week -
enabled the alcoholic drink, chicha to be made for celebrating festive
occasions. Thus, the fruit of each palm constituted a basic source of
energy, replacing the functions and uses of grain in other cultures. It
was especially significant as a substitute for maize, which it
surpasses in nutritional value.
The wood of the trunk has great
strength and elasticity which enabled it to be used to make weapons -
bows, arrows and spears - as well as in construction. The apical
section of the trunk, together with its embryonic fronds, is soft and
has a delicate flavour; from this the palmetto or heart of the palm is
extracted. The sap from this part of the trunk, either unfermented or
fermented in various degrees, was used to prepare nutritional and
The young inflorescences were also eaten
roasted "the herdsman's way", without opening the protective spathe.
Infusions of the roots were used in medicine as a vermicide.
the Indians use the same basic products obtained from the peach-palm,
which now produce a greater diversity of by-products, many of which are
still being developed. Thus the wood is used to manufacture building
materials such as parquet, panels, luxury furniture and handicraft
items, taking advantage of its beauty and great strength. The long
fibres on the inside of the trunk show promise for use in fibrecement
products. Exploitation of the palmetto is a prosperous industry: having
originated in Costa Rica in the 1970s, it is gradually gaining
importance among the countries of the American humid tropics as a
profitable crop and on account of its sound characteristics for
ecological management, in accordance with new agronomic trends.
fruit, which in the past was only important in its areas of production
because it is very perishable, is now seen as having great potential
through processing to form flours and other derived products such as
oil, beta-carotene and starch. Tests are even being carried out to see
if the trypsin inhibitor contained in the fruit of some cultivars can
be used as an insecticide. Flours made from peach-palm have an
important future in human nutrition, being consumed in confectionery,
bread-making and other preparations.
It also has a great future
in animal feeding, as a substitute or supplement for grain, in the
manufacture of concentrates and fermented as ensilage. Fermentation of
the fruit is being investigated with a view to its exploitation in the
manufacture of various organic compounds. Its possible medicinal use,
as practiced by the Indians, has yet to be explored.
is a caespitose palm with an extensive but fairly superficial root
system. The trunk has internodes covered with spines, alternating with
nodes without spines, formed by leaf scars. These measure between 10
and 25 cm, with a lamina that is generally more than 2 m in length and
with over 200 folioles. The inflorescence is covered with two bracts,
the outer short and thick, the inner surrounding the inflorescence
until it matures; the rachis is branched with thousands of male flowers
intermixed with a few hundred female flowers, which are slightly bigger
than the males. The fruit occurs in a drupe of variable size - 400 to
300 g - with a slender, red or yellow exocarp; a farinaceous mesocarp
which is variably orange; and a dark and hard endocarp. The size of the
seeds depends on the ecotype: in the cultivated plants they weigh about
4 g, are recalcitrant and take between 45 and 90 days to germinate. Its
chromosome number is 2n = 28.
A) Peach-palm (Bactris gasipaes);A1) racemes with fruit in a drupe; A2) cross sections and profile of the fruit;
A3) spine-covered internodes on the stem
The peach-palm is a monoecious plant with male and female flowers mixed
on the rachillae. It is also protogynous, since the female flowers are
fertile as from the opening of the spathe and continue to be receptive
for 24 hours. Anthesis of the male flowers occurs on the second day of
the cycle, i.e. 24 hours after the females. In both cases this occurs
at the end of the afternoon, between 5 and 6 p.m.
pollination cycle takes place over three days and consists of three
complementary methods. The first is entomophilous and is the most
important. It is effected by curculionids: in Central America by
Audranthobius palmarum; and in the Amazon basin by several species of
Phyllotrox. Occasionally, other insects also play a part but the
Amazonian Cyclocephala has been erroneously cited as a pollinator.
second pollination method is by gravity. When the pollen is released
during the second day, it completely covers the inflorescence and, in
doing so, covers its female flowers. This method is not very effective,
as there is a system of genetic self-incompatibility which interferes
with fertilization and possibly produces fertile seeds only
The third method is anemophilous, occurring
between adjacent plants during the morning of the second receptive day
of the female flowers. In this case, the pollen deposited on the
rachillae during male anthesis is scattered by the wind on the
following morning - the third day - and if there are inflorescences on
nearby plants, they may be pollinated in this way on the second day.
controlled pollination technique consists of protecting the
inflorescence from the sight of curculionids, using well-fitting bags
of kraft paper and applying the pollen on the day following the opening
of the spathe. It is not necessary to emasculate the male flowers.
Ecology and phytogeography
peach-palm grows wild in well-drained soils with various physical and
chemical conditions, including acid and poor soils, since it is
assisted by its association with mycorrhizas. It is grown in climates
with precipitations between 2 000 mm and 5 000 mm and annual mean
temperatures exceeding 22°C. The recommended altitude for
commercial cultivation ranges from 0 to 900 m.
distribution extends from Darien in Panama to the province of Santa
Cruz in Bolivia, the state of Rondônia and possibly the Mato
Grosso in Brazil. Its presumed natural origin, further to the north in
Central America, has not been confirmed, although it has been
cultivated for several thousand years as far as northeastern Honduras.
Spontaneous dispersion occurs through the seeds being carried over
short distances by birds, rodents and other mammals, and over greater
distances possibly by water.
Origin and genetic diversity
peach-palm may be considered a synthetic species, the result of the
independent domestication of several wild populations.
latter, which are very extensive in their geographical distribution,
were known to several primitive societies which began to grow them.
TABLE 7 Species linked with the origin of the peach-palm
|Bactris ciliate||Peru: Ucayali, Huallaga, Madre de Dios Rivers|
|Bactris insignia||Bolivia: Santa Cruz, Chapare, Alto Beni|
|Bactris sp.||Brazil: Acre, Rondônia|
|Bactris sp.||Colombia: Alto Putumayo, Caqueta|
|Bactris macana||Venezuela: Maracaibo; Colombia: Santa Marta|
|Bactris caribea||Venezuela: Maracaibo; Colombia: Santa Marta|
|Bactris chantaduro (?)||Colombia: Cauca River valley|
|Bactris sp.||Ecuador: Central and northern Pacific slope|
|Bactris sp.||Panama: Darien; Colombia: Chocó (possibly)|
It has not been determined whether or not the species here was B. ciliata
independently. The degree of domestication reached at the time of
contact with Europeans differed depending on the region. This is still
reflected in characteristics such as fruit size. Thus, the cultivar
developed in Bolivia from Bactris insignis represents an incipient
stage of domestication because of its small fruit size and high fibre
content, while the cultivar of the Vaupes River in Colombia reflects an
advanced domestication process through its large fruit size and high
starch content. The variety or species which gave rise to this cultivar
has still not been determined. Between these two extremes - north and
south - of the Amazon/Orinoco basin, other cultivated varieties and at
least two wild species are found. One of them, Bactris ciliata (=B.
microcarpa, B. dahlgreniana) possibly gave rise to more than one of the
cultivars which are recognized today, for example Pampa Hermosa and
Pastaza, which show an intermediate degree of domestication between the
first two mentioned. In some cases, the presence of the wild species
near the plantings had a negative effect on the improvement process as
a result of spontaneous backcrossing.
The subsequent spread of
the different genotypes through neighbouring regions contributed in
some cases to the creation of greater local diversity. Geological and
climatic history also contributed to the geographical isolation of
populations, which was necessary for the process which gave rise to
this complex. The gene flow between distant regions over generations
has been limited in the peach-palm, since there are absolute barriers
to the pollinating curculionids and to natural seed migration.
first division between cultivars and species is based on the
geographical distribution of two major groups: the eastern or
Amazonian, situated to the east of the Andes; and the western, situated
on the opposite slope. The former generally have a smoother trunk, with
less wood, a lower spine density, fewer tufts and less soil anchorage
when young. The other characteristic is fruit size, with the varieties
being classified into microcarps, mesocarps and macrocarps.
exchange of germplasm, especially in recent decades, has resulted in a
considerable number of local varieties being contaminated with foreign
germplasm, thereby obscuring the characteristics that were specific to
them. In general, this phenomenon occurs with greater frequency in
localities associated with urban centres, but occasionally it affects
more extensive regions.
TABLE 8 Cultivated varieties of peach-palm
1There are no western macrocarp populations.
|Microcarps (weight less than 20 g)||Geographical distribution|
|Tembé ||Bolivia: eastern part|
|Para||Brazil: state of Para|
|Juruá||Brazil: Juruá River|
|Western varieties |
|Rama||Nicaragua: name, Bluefields|
|Chontifla||Ecuador: western part|
|Mesocarps (weight 21 to 70 g)||Geographical distribution|
|Inirida||Colombia: Inirida and Guaviare Rivers|
|Sollimões||Brazil: middle course of the Amazon|
|Pastaza||Ecuador: foothills of the Andes|
|Pampa Hermosa||Peru: Hermosa pampa|
|Utilis||Costa Rica, Panama and perhaps the coasts of Colombia|
|Guatuso||Costa Rica: San Carlos|
|Cauca||Colombia: Cauca and Magdalena (?) valleys|
|Macrocarp (weight exceeding 70 g) 1||Geographical distribution|
|Vaupés||Colombia: Vaupés River|
|Putumayo||Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil: Putumayo, Caqueta, Napo,|
|Alto Solimões, Huallagas Rivers|
erosion and conservation. The reasons for the decline in importance of
this crop are also responsible for the accelerated genetic erosion
being sustained by its germplasm. To these should be added the
expansion of some towns in whose surroundings interesting peach-palms
are to be found, such as Yurimagua, with its spineless variety, and
Iquitos in Peru; and also the deterioration in the social organization
of small communities which is threatening their very existence, as is
the case of the Yuvineto settlements of the Sequoya tribe - situated on
a small tributary of the Putumayo river in Peru - who have bred a local
variety which is exceptional for its vigour, total absence of spines,
large fruit and racemes and excellent table quality; and of the Guatuso
in Costa Rica, a community of the Maleko tribe, which also developed a
good-quality, spineless cultivar. These situations are not exclusive to
the examples mentioned, but are fairly widespread in all the countries
contained within B. gasipaes' distribution area. In Costa Rica, for
example, it is possible to predict the extinction of the peach-palm
within a few decades unless there is a resurgence of interest in its
TABLE 9 Peach-palm gene banks
|Country||Locality||Institution responsible||Approximate number|
|Colombia||Buenaventura||Departamento de Agricultura y Fomento del Valle||400|
|Araracuara||Corporación de Araracuara||100|
|San Jose, Guaviare||Corporación de Araracuara||100|
|Costa Rica||Guápiles||UCR, CORBANA, MAG||950|
Populations of wild peach-palm are also threatened with extinction: B. insignis in Bolivia; B. ciliata in Peru; Bactris sp. (chontilla) in western Ecuador; Bactris sp. in Darien, Panama; B. macana in Venezuela; and B. chantaduro (?) (chinamato) in Colombia.
collection and inclusion of germplasm in ex situ banks is one of the
most important immediate measures to be taken and significant efforts
have been made in this connection, especially in Costa Rica, Brazil,
Colombia, Peru and Ecuador through self-funding and funds provided by
products are obtained from the peach palm, with the result that
specific agronomic technologies have emerged for their exploitation. In
fact, they are different crops. We shall deal here with the general
aspects of two of these crops exploited on a commercial scale: palmetto
The seed beds are set up using soil beds or closed polyethylene bags.
In the latter case, the seed's moisture content must be approximately
40 percent. A germination rate of 75 percent is achieved in soil beds
and 90 to 100 percent in plastic bags. At ambient temperature (24 to
25°C) its germination begins in 1.5 months and may be regarded as
being over at three months. Two asexual methods of propagation are
currently being developed: tissue culture and culture from shoots; with
both of these, however, there are difficulties which have still not
been overcome. The newly germinated seedlings are taken from the seed
bed to the nursery and at three to six months are planted out in the
field. Transplanting can be done with soil or with bare roots. Planting
density is 2 x 1 m or 1.5 x 1.5 m, and the number of shoots with which
the rootstock is used is four to six. Depending on the size of the
seedlings at transplanting and on soil fertility, the stems are ready
for harvesting when they measure approximately 9 cm in diameter, which
they attain 12 to 18 months after transplanting.
harvest is one stem per rootstock but from then onwards, if the plot is
well managed, there may be an average of three or more stems per
rootstock per year. The annual industrial yield, which is guided by
current quality standards for canned palmetto, is approximately 1 tonne
Because of the heterogeneity in the ages of the
shoots, the population is composed of stems at all stages of
development, which means harvesting must be done by hand. This consists
of cutting the apical sector of the stem, removing the foliage and some
of the sheathes covering it, and leaving two of them to protect it
during transportation to the industrial plant. Harvesting produces a
great amount of organic residue and, as it is done throughout the year,
it contributes to the maintenance of an organic cover on the soil.
hectare of palmetto produces 19.5 tonnes per year of dry matter, of
which the extracted crude palmetto represents only 1.76 tonnes, i.e. 9
percent of the biomass produced.
The most important routine
operations are the establishment of a drainage system before sowing
and, subsequently, weed control, fertilization and pruning excess
shoots. Regarding the latter, there are cultivars that frequently do
not produce sufficient shoots or do not produce any at all, and this is
a serious drawback. Putumayo is characterized by such behaviour.
pests or diseases of any economic importance have yet occurred in
plantations of peachpalm palmetto. Those that do appear occasionally
are due to poor handling conditions. However, as in any crop, these
will appear as the cultivation area grows. Peach-palm palmetto is a
perennial crop which is constantly renewed through the shoots. The
oldest plantation is 18 years old and continues to produce efficiently.
Seed germination and shoot production is the same as described for
palmetto production. However, in this case it is more important to
plant shoots in polyethylene bags or another type of container that
allows the young plant to grow for nine months so that it can then be
taken to the field when it is larger.
In cultivation for fruit
production, the plants must attain their full development. The root
system is therefore bigger and, because of this, greater drainage depth
is required. The sowing densities chiefly adopted are 5 x 5 m and 4 x 4
x 8 m, with one or two stems being left on the rootstock.
important aspect is the management of shoots with the aim of renewing
old stocks. These must be handled in such a way that they are never
absent, i.e. they must be cut before the bare stem appears because at
that stage the axillary buds of the rhizome, which constitute the basic
source of shoots, will have died. Shoot production is induced by
eliminating apical dominance.
Harvesting the fruit is the most
difficult operation of all crop management practices because of the
height reached by the stems. For this reason, the stipes must be
renewed when, they reach heights which make the collection of racemes
too difficult, i.e. at ten to 12 years of age. To prepare for its
renewal, a shoot is allowed to grow for one year or 18 months before
the removal of the stem in question, which is done after harvesting.
The shoot will begin to produce in the following harvesting period.
of the peach-palm for fruit production brings with it pests and
diseases of greater economic importance than in the case of palmetto.
The most serious disease is Monilia
sp., which attacks the fruit and is at its worst during the more humid
years, especially if drainage is deficient or planting very dense. The
most destructive pests are parrots. which attack the fruit. These
birds, which like the fruit when it is still green, appear in huge
flocks and cause considerable damage.
Production per hectare is
variable, depending on the cultivar, ecological conditions and
management. Under good management, plantings with cultivars of the
varieties Utilis, Putumayo and Sollimões produce approximately
25 tonnes per hectare in a year of normal climatic conditions. As soon
as the selections obtained can be reproduced by cloning, the yield per
hectare will increase considerably.
Prospects for improvement
in Brazil, where current domestic consumption is much greater than in
the rest of the world, the palmetto is an export product, although its
international market is still small (approximately 20 000 tonnes per
year). In this area it has to compete with the Euterpe palmetto,
extracted from the forests, and which, at present, meets approximately
85 percent of international demand (Brazil's domestic consumption of
palmetto from this other palm exceeds 100000 tonnes per year). However,
because of its greater productivity and because of world conflict over
related ecological issues, it is envisaged that the cultivated
peach-palm will gradually replace the Euterpe palmetto. The following
may be mentioned as factors limiting the peach palm's development:
lack of commercial availability of highly productive varieties suited
to the various ecological conditions and having the appropriate quality
for various industrial uses.
absence of an efficient asexual reproduction method that enables
commercial propagation of the selections obtained; in recent years,
intensive work has been carried out to solve this problem at the UCR,
at INIPA, in Iquitos, Peru, and at the University of São Paulo.
Brazil, but the solution does not seem to be within sight.
· Deficient or non-existent industrial techniques for processing peach-palm products.
· Limited economic resources to stimulate cultivation.
· Unfamiliarity with peach-palm products on the market.
· Scant economic resources assigned to research to solve the
first three aspects and maintain a constant control over production
techniques and to overcome particular problems that occur.
limitations aside, the prospects for improvement are very promising
from the agronomic, industrial and marketing points of view.
genetic improvement. for the production of high-yielding varieties, the
gene banks contain plants that have a very high fruit yield, and others
that show great vigour and earliness for palmetto production.
normal plant improvement methods, this limitation can be overcome.
Several gene banks have already evaluated - at least partially - the
accessions and have selected highly productive and good-quality plants
for certain uses. As far as their evaluation under different ecological
conditions and their subsequent distribution to farmers is concerned,
the difficulty is the absence of an asexual reproduction method
enabling clonal populations to be obtained.
The same process and
difficulty are involved in the second stage of the use of hybridization
to bring desired characteristics together and exploit the possible
expression of heterosis.
The scant research which has been
carried out in the industrial sphere is also a limitation. In the case
of palmetto, work has only been done concerning canning problems,
without concentrating on other possible uses such as dried or liquid
soups, packs for fresh palmetto, toasted palmetto (crisps), etc., which
offer potential for broadening the market. Palmetto is a suitable
product for modern diets. as it is rich in fibre, tasty and, when dry,
a nutritional product. Industrialization of the fruit has demonstrated
its nutritional value (as a source of energy, beta-carotene, oil and
other nutrients) for human consumption and as animal teed. The range of
products that can be prepared with the fruit is similar to that
prepared with various grains. Industrialization has barely begun, but
it does not seem to pose any major technical problems. Its limited
development is the main difficulty that normally faces a new product on
its introduction to the market, a process which requires costly
promotion and generally long-term investment.
regions suited to this crop are very extensive in all the countries of
the American tropics and outside the continent. Even in small countries
such as those in Central America, hundreds of thousands of hectares are
suitable; for example, in Costa Rica these have been estimated as
totalling 700 000 ha. The cropping technology is adaptable to any scale.
Lines of research
most pressing research requirements to raise peach-palm cultivation to
a competitive level on international and local markets are as follows:
· concluding exploration work in territories spanned by the geographical distribution of the species;
· establishing an inter-American network of gene banks;
· evaluating accessions in a programme common to all the banks;
· studying the taxonomy of the complex in greater depth;
· developing reproduction techniques using tissue culture and
shoots; developing a method for the long-term storage of seed;
· setting up comparative trials on varieties and confirming the results on a commercial scale;
· studying integral methods of weed, disease and pest control:
· establishing the critical levels of the various chemical elements required:
· diversifying the industrial products of the fruit and of the palmetto;
· continuing studies on the use of the fruit for human consumption and as animal teed;
· carrying out market research for the various products;
· studying and encouraging the organization of peasant producers in associations;
· studying the social and ecological impact of the crop and its industry.
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