the Neglected Palm
Of the many palms grown in the world today,
only the coconut, date and African oil palm have been widely exploited.
There are many others which could become useful sources of oil and
food. One such example is the Pejibaye or Bactris gasipaes;
sometimes called the Peach Palm. It is probably the most balanced of
all tropical foods, as its fruit contains carbohydrates, proteins, oil,
minerals and vitamins.
An exact place of origin cannot be
pinpointed as isolated trees can be found in virgin forests in Brazil,
Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Columbia where it can be considered a
native. In Central America, it is well-known and utilized by man but it
is not known to grow in a completely wild state. Trees are found in
Panama, Costa Rica and Nicaragua and can be found sporadically as far
north as the southern tip of Mexico.
There are over 200 common
names for the Pejibaye which reflect variations among tribes of
original Latin American people and their dialects. The botanical name
has also been changed from Bactris
gasipaes to Guilielma
gasipaes by L.H. Bailey.
However informed botanists now prefer to call it by its
original scientific name, Bactris
The English name, Peach Palm, is clearly a misnomer. Although the
fruits of some varieties superficially resemble peaches, there is no
other way in which the peach and the Pejibaye resemble each other.
has a unique growth habit in which one seedling tends to form clumps of
trunks. Solitary trunks are seldom seen. Each trunk is erect and
reaches a mature height of 12 to 20 metres and a basal diameter of 20
to 30 centimetres. As each frond dies, scars are left leaving the trunk
marked with rings. Up to 3 or 4 trunks can reach maturity at the same
time. A big drawback is the large sharp black spines growing
perpendicularly from the trunk. These 8-centimetre-long spines are
arranged in circular zones of varying width. Those near the base of the
stem are four to six inches wide, while those higher up decrease in
width from one to two inches. Between the zones of thorns is about an
inch of smooth trunk.
Cutting off too many spines can kill
the palm. The Amazonian Indian used these spines as needles. The trunk
of the palm consists of a black hard wood which resists water, termites
and other insects. It polishes well and was used as bow and spear
shafts by the Indians. The wood is also made into handles, yokes,
ornaments and furniture.
When the palm is young, the leaves are
very graceful in appearance. They grow to a length of 2.4-3.6 metres
(8-12 ft) and are deep green in colour. All parts of the frond are
covered with spines shorter and softer than those on the trunk.
Pejibaye is monoecious, which means it has male and female flowers on
the same plant. It has two to six flower racemes each year. Its
panicles originate below the fronds .and consist of a central axis and
a large number of simple side branches, each covered with numerous
small cream to light yellow male and fewer female flowers. Racemes of
mature fruit can weigh up to 12 kilograms or more and five or six
racemes are often produced by the palm in a single crop. A bunch of
fruit can contain from 70 to 300 fruits. As long as the racemes are not
cut when the first fruit is ripe, the other maturing fruit will remain
in good condition on the palm until needed. In Costa Rica the first
fruits mature in September.
On the Yeppoon Coast, an orchard has
recorded a first fruiting of a Pejibaye this year in May-June. One
panicle of fruit was found on an approximately 6-7-year-old tree.
fruits vary in shape, some being top-shaped, conical or ovoid and vary
in length from one to two inches (2.5-5cm). A green leathery, three
toothed calyx nearly covers the base of the fruit. The skin surface
varies from smooth to deeply-fissured transversally. The fruit also
displays a wide variation in colour at maturity from light yellow, deep
orange or reddish orange to brown. A thin tough skin adheres closely to
the flesh, which is dry, mealy, yet firm in texture and pale orange to
yellow in colour. The flesh separates easily from the single seed after
the fruit has been boiled. The seed is conical, somewhat angular in
outline about three quarters of an inch long, black with a thin but
hard shell enclosing a white kernel resembling that of a coconut in
flavour and texture.
Some trees, commonly called 'males' bear
fruits without seeds which are more convenient to eat and are
considered a better flavour. Also spineless palms are highly valued
because of the ease of picking. The fruit has to be harvested carefully
as damaged fruit rots easily. Fruit can be knocked down by a long pole,
but the preferred method is to use a ladder, cut the racemes and lower
the bunch to the ground using a rope.
Usually the fruit is
prepared by boiling the entire fruit in salted water for three hours.
The skin is removed before eating. The fruit is appealing and delicious
cooked in this simple way. However the flesh is not sweet; its flavour
and texture is reminiscent of chestnuts. It is used in meals, as a
snack or as an hors d'oeuvre. Sometimes it is eaten with mayonnaise or
other sauce. Freshly-boiled fruit lasts only 5 to 6 days.
preserve the fruit, it is boiled and then dried. This dried pulp is
then ground to a yellow meal that is very versatile. It replaces some
of the flour in many dishes. Tortillas are made with Pejibaye flour,
eggs and vegetables. It can also be used as a stuffing in roasted
A popular drink containing a small amount of alcohol is
also made from the Pejibaye fruit. After boiling mature fruits, the
pulp is separated, drained, mashed and mixed with water to ferment. The
liquid is sieved to remove residues and is served as a refreshment.
kernel of the fresh seed is sweet, very oily and similar in flavour to
a coconut. It is often ground and used in a drink usually sweetened
with sugar. The cooked seed can also be cracked and eaten.
important product obtained from the Pejibaye palm is the 'heart' or
'cabbage'. This 'heart' is the still folded young leaves within the
growing tip of the trunk. Usually old trunks are cut down to renew the
clump, and the 'heart' is obtained by cutting open the wood. It is
usually used fresh, cooked or canned. When raw or cooked it is used
mainly as a salad ingredient. It keeps its appearance, texture and
flavour very well.
Pejibaye fruit has twice the protein content
of a banana, is a good source of carbohydrates and is a fair source of
oil. It not only has a high food value, but is delicious as well.
palm is adapted to a wide range of climatic conditions in the tropics.
In Costa Rica it is found at sea level to 1,500 metres but yields are
less at elevations above 700 metres. In Ecuador and Peru it is found no
higher than 1,200 metres and in Bolivia it is found at elevations
between 200 to 2,000 metres. Pejibaye palms will not grow where frosts
occur but it will tolerate cool subtropical temperatures. High
temperatures won't restrict growth as long as the moisture is
It can withstand dry seasons and it will grow
successfully in a moderately dry monsoon climate. It is not successful
in areas of heavy rainfall in the tropics.
soil requirements are not exacting, however it does best in rich
alluvial deposits. It will grow in deep acid clays, in clay loams and
occasionally pure clay soil.
Most of the existing trees have
been propagated from seed. This is the easiest method but seedlings are
variable and a large proportion produce poor quality fruit. Planted as
soon as possible after opening, the seed will germinate between 60 days
and 6 months. From seed to fruiting can take 6-8 years but it will
continue fruiting for up to 75 years or more.
To obtain trees
with superior quality fruit, the best method is to propagate
vegetatively from superior quality trees. Because the palm is
multistemmed, one or two of these suckers can be removed by cutting at
ground level and below, ensuring that roots are still attached. All the
fronds are removed to prevent dehydration. The sucker is then planted
and watered. However only a small percentage survive.
doesn't appear to require much care and few plants get it. However
since any cultivated plant grows better when well cared for, it
wouldn't hurt to mulch around the trees, add a light complete
fertilizer, and water adequately. Large trees can resist drought, but
they do benefit from extra water during a dry spell.
noticed overseas, despite the large spines, are rats. which climb the
palms and eat the pulp of the ripe or almost ripe seeds. Cylinders of
galvanized sheet metal are nailed to the trunk to prevent them climbing
In Yeppoon, Central Queensland, the biggest pest is the
Peach Moth which pierced the fruit and the only evidence of its
existence was the tailings and excreta.
From all appearances,
the Pejibaye palm has great potential for commercial uses. The major
barrier being the lack of superior cultivars available from which to
take suckers. Seedlings vary in quality and performance and seedless
types are not as productive as seeded types. Spineless cultivars,
mostly found in the northwest Amazon region should be collected and
selected for use in crossbreeding and propagations. Also ways of
transporting, storing and preserving the fruit should be looked into.
problems aside, it is an attractive palm with a highly delicious fruit
that makes it very acceptable as a backyard fruit tree in Australia.
(1) Popenoe: The Pejibaye, a neglected food plant of tropical America
(2) The Pejibaye: Underexploited Tropical Plants