Borassus flabellifer, also known as the Asian Palmyra palm, Toddy palm, sugar palm, or Cambodian palm, is robust and can live 100 years or more and reach a height of 30 m, with a canopy of leaves several dozen fronds spreading 3 meters across. The large trunk resembles that of the coconut tree and is ringed with leaf scars. Young palmyra palms grow slowly in the beginning but then grow faster. Its growth pattern, large size, and clean habits make it an attractive landscape species.
It is known as Tala in Odia, Thot Not in Vietnam,Tari in Hindi, Tal in Bengali, Tale Hannu in Kannada, Nungu in Tamil, Thaati Munjalu in Telugu, Munjal in Urdu, Ton Taan in Thai, Tnaot in Khmer, Lontar in Indonesian, Akadiru by the East Timorese, Tao in Divehi, Tadfali (pronunciation variations are Tad-fali or Taadfali) in Gujarati, Targula in Konkani and sometimes Ice-apple in British English. The fruit measures 4 to 7 inches in diameter, has a black husk, and is borne in clusters. The top portion of the fruit must be cut off to reveal the three sweet jelly seed sockets, translucent pale-white, similar to that of the lychee but with a milder flavor and no pit. The jelly part of the fruit is covered with a thin, yellowish-brown skin.
The ripened fibrous outer layer of the palm fruits can also be eaten raw, boiled, or roasted.
A sugary sap, called toddy, can be obtained from the young inflorescence, either male or female ones. Toddy is fermented to make a beverage called arrack, or it is concentrated to a crude sugar called jaggery. It is called Gula Jawa (Javanese sugar) in Indonesia and is widely used in Javanese cuisine. In addition, the tree sap is taken as a laxative, and medicinal values have been ascribed to other parts of the plant.
In Tamil Nadu, India, and Jaffna, Sri Lanka, the seeds are planted and made to germinate and the fleshy stems (below the surface) are boiled and eaten. It is very fibrous and nutritious, known as "Panai Kizhangu" or "Panamkizhangu" in Tamil.
The germinated seed's hard shell is also cut open to take out the crunchy kernel, which tastes like a sweeter water chestnut. It is called "dhavanai" in Tamil.
The leaves are used for thatching, mats, baskets, fans, hats, umbrellas, and as writing material.
In Indonesia the leaves were used in the ancient culture as paper, known as "lontar". Leaves of suitable size, shape, texture, and maturity are chosen and then seasoned by boiling in salt water with turmeric powder, as a preservative. The leaves are then dried. When they are dry enough, the face of the leaf is polished with pumice, cut into the proper size, and a hole is made in one corner. Each leaf will make four pages. The writing is done with a stylus and has a very cursive and interconnected style. The leaves are then tied up as sheaves.
The stalks are used to make fences and also produce a strong, wiry fiber suitable for cordage and brushes. The black timber is hard, heavy, and durable and is highly valued for construction.
The young plants are cooked as a vegetable or roasted and pounded to make meal.
When the crown of the tree is removed, the segment from which the leaves grow out is an edible cake. This is called pananchoru in Tamil.
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