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What is a Rattan Palm?

By T. L. Childree
Updated May 16, 2024
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A rattan palm is a type of climbing vine that is native to southeast Asia. There are over 300 known species of this strong, flexible, and fast growing palm. Some varieties of rattan palms are fruit bearing and can grow to nearly 600 feet (180 m) in length. The rattan palm is harvested in parts of Asia to make items such as baskets, mats, cages, traps, and ropes. Rattan palm materials are also used to make products such as chair seats, furniture, umbrella handles, and walking canes.

Rattan palms have a bamboo-like appearance and are considered to be more of a vine than an actual tree. These palms attach themselves to other plants and trees using hook shaped spines. The fronds of this palm are often eaten as a vegetable in certain cultures. The majority of rattan palms are located in the countries of Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines.

The vine's stems are known worldwide for their strength and flexibility. The stem of a rattan palm is typically processed into raw materials that are used in a wide variety of furniture making applications. The outer skin of the stem is typically removed and used as a weaving substance, although the entire stem is often split and used to make wicker chair seats and baskets. In some applications, the stem is left intact to make handles or canes.

In addition to its many furniture making uses, rattan wood is also used to make the handles of percussion mallets for musical instruments such as the vibraphone and xylophone. Some varieties of rattan fruit produce a red-colored resin that is often referred to as dragon’s blood. This resin was believed to hold certain medicinal properties by ancient Roman, Greek, and Arab civilizations. This resin is sometimes used as a wood stain and typically produces a light peach color when applied to wood.

Certain countries use rattan palm stems to make instruments utilized in a form of corporal punishment known as caning. In this kind of punishment, a Rattan cane is soaked in water before use to increase its weight and flexibility. The Singapore military forces also use rattan canes to punish disobedient soldiers. A thinner version of this cane is used for corporal punishment by schools in Malaysia, Singapore, and a number of African countries as well.

A scientific research team in Italy has conducted experiments using rattan wood to produce artificial bone material. In this process, small amounts of rattan palm wood are combined with calcium, carbon, and phosphate and then heated and pressurized in a special type of furnace to produce a bone-like material. This new material has been clinically tested in sheep without producing any adverse reactions. These researchers hope to begin clinical trials in humans in the near future.

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