Palms and People in the Amazon

Part of the series Geobotany Studies pp 401-412


Oenocarpus bataua

  • Nigel SmithAffiliated withDepartment of Geography, University of Florida

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This widespread palm in both uplands and the higher parts of floodplains provides many useful products the most important of which is the fruits which are used to make a rich juice. As many as 2,000 fruits can be produced on a single tree. Throughout the palm’s extensive range from the mouth of the Amazon to the Andean foothills up to 1,400 m, the fruits are soaked and then sieved to render a delicious, calorie-laden juice. Rich in oil, the juice is a significant source of calories in some areas as noted by Victorian naturalists. The oil is similar to olive oil and was once a brisk trade item. The purple, protein-rich juice is consumed in both rural and urban areas. The fruits are used in various folk remedies while the long black spines emanating from the leaf bases of young specimens are used as blowgun darts. Indigenous people use the hard wood obtained from the trunk to make blowguns and clubs as well as to make fish weirs.