Pinang Merah

January 2019

by Jeremy Bugarchich, Curator of Collections

Palms are a large and diverse group of plants embodied within a single family, Arecaceae. There are currently 2600 known species of palms, which are represented by 181 genera [1]. These plants are characterized by their large fan or feather shaped evergreen leaves, also known as fronds. Their flowers drape along their trunks producing a large infructescence; a grouping of brightly colored fruit. Palm species have a wide morphology, a study of shape and form, allowing trunks of some species to reach upwards of 200ft or becoming nearly ‘trunk-less’ shrubs.

Palms can often be confused with cycads. One major difference is that while palms produce flowers and fruits, cycads will produce only cones. Notable palms include Washingtonia robusta (Mexican fan palm), Phoenix dactylifera (date palm), and Cocos nucifera (coconut palm).

A prominent plant for our upcoming Dickinson Family Education Conservatory is the impressive Areca vestiaria. These fiery colored palms are native to North Sulawesi and the eastern rainforests of Indonesia. The name ‘Pinang Merah’ is a common name in Indonesia referring to all palms with an orange or red fruit, petiole or crown shaft [2]. These scarlet palms produce edible fruit enjoyed by its fellow native creatures. It is also colloquially known as the ‘Pinang Yaki’ or the Monkey Pinang [2].

This palm grows in tight clusters or as stand-alone specimens. They have the ability to produce dramatic stiltroots, a survival strategy allowing the plant to grow taller or along unstable slopes without compromising its structure and support [3]. What is most unique about the Pinang Merah is that as it grows at higher altitudes, its striking color becomes more dramatic and more attractive. The color of these palms can Areca vestiaria range from bright orange to a deep maroon and everything in between! When these palms grow at lower altitudes they become less colorful and have orange to green variations [2].

Like people, plants show great diversity. Species like the Areca vestiaria illustrate the true beauty of diversity and how plants change and interact with their environment. The Dickinson Family Education Conservatory is prepped to show how tropical and sub-tropical plants flourish and bring brilliance to the world.

[1]Christenhusz, M. J. M. & Byng, J. W. (2016). “The number of known plants species in the world and its annual increase”. Phytotaxa. Magnolia Press. 261 (3): 201–217. doi:10.11646/ phytotaxa.261.3.1. Archived from the original on 2016-07-29.

[2]Areca Vestiaria

[3]Tropical trees as living systems: the proceedings of the Fourth Cabot Symposium held at Harvard Forest, Petersham, Massachusetts on April 26-30, 1976. Philip Tomlinson-Martin Zimmermann-Lawrence Bogorad – Cambridge University Press – 2010. Page 266.