From the Archives
of the Rare Fruit Council of Australia, inc.
James J. Darley, Townsville
The palm Bactris
gasipaes (syn. Guilielma
gasipaes, previously G.
is a native of the Amazon regions of South America and is commonly
cultivated in the countries of Costa Rica, Brazil, Panama, Columbia,
Peru, Venezuela and Ecuador. The Pejibaye is known only from cultivated
specimens. It is thought to have originated in the Andes of Eastern
Peru. Here a similar palm, G. microcarpa is known as 'wild pupunha'.
Pupunha is the common South American name for the Pejibaye.
von Humboldt made the first botanical description of the Pejibaye: on
maturity it forms a slender (to 150 mm), tall (to 20 m) palm. The trunk
has prominent rings from old leaf scars and is studded with sharp
spines. The size of the spines varies within the species. They can be
of sufficient size to support a scaffolding, made by the Indians, for
the harvesting of its fruits. Removal of too many spines can kill the
palm. Spineless varieties are known. Timber from the mature palm is
hard and durable.
The leaf stalks (petioles) are about 1 m long.
The leaf is 3 m long and is curved with numerous leaflets which arise
in several planes from the upper two thirds of the leaf stem. The crown
is full and almost round. The leaves have a characteristic sway in the
The Pejibaye grows best on heavy clay or clay loams. The
root system is extensive; it covers a surface area of 5 m and it is
dense to a depth of 2 m. However, the root density decreases
logarithmically. Vandermeer, who has studied the Pejibaye root system,
thought this palm would be particularly suitable for interplanting with
other tree crops. An annual rainfall of 2,500 mm or slightly less is
preferred. The Pejibaye is tropical in its requirements but will
tolerate elevations of 1,500 m near the equator.
develop among the leaves. Both male and female flowers appear on the
same spike. Palms first flower when between 6 and 8 years of age. There
can be up to 13 pendulous flower spikes per palm with numerous
creamish-white, small flowers. Each inflorescence can develop up to 300
fruits, which are slightly elongated and 20 to 60 mm long. One bunch
may weigh as much as 12.5 kg. Single palms can produce up to 70 kg of
fruit. Since three to five suckers form one clump, productivity per
hectare is excellent.
This palm forms suckers from its base,
which is fortunate, for palms cannot be grafted. Therefore, suckers are
the only possibility for the propagation of superior types. However,
most plantings are probably from seeds. Suckers are most successfully
separated when they are between 1.2 and 1.8 m tall. It is advantageous
to cut the sucker from the mother plant several weeks prior to
uprooting. This allows the formation of a stronger, separate root
system. The separated suckers are protected from drying out through the
removal of all leaves except for the growth tip. Some success has been
claimed by Arias for the chemical induction of suckering through the
application of a foliar spray of 10 ppm (0.001%) of fluorenol
(9-Hydroxyfluorene). 200 ppm inhibited sucker formation.
cultivation, palms are planted at 6 m intervals. 3 to 4 suckers are
allowed to reach maturity. Others can be used to extend a plantation.
The Pejibaye's ability to form suckers makes this palm one of the most
attractive for the production of 'heart of palm', a much-sought
delicacy. This can reduce the period before the grower can expect a
return on his investment.
In the southern hemisphere, flowering
occurs between April and June, and the first fruits ripen in September.
From then until the arrival of the next flowering period the fruit can
be harvested as required.
The colour of the ripe fruit is yellow
to orange. The under-ripe fruit is usually prepared by boiling for 3
hours in salted water. In that form it is a staple food, but it can
also be dried and ground into a flour. Whole, boiled and dried fruit
will return to excellent conditions after several months, after a short
re-boiling. The character of the flesh after boiling is dry and mealy
but firm in texture. The fruit can also be roasted and it has been
compared in taste with the Spanish chestnut.
Pejibaye is not a
sweet fruit, rather it is a very nutritious staple for millions of
people in South America for whom the Pejibaye is a sought-after
principal food for several months.
(From Popenoe and Jiminez, 1921. Values in %. Calories per 100 g.)
The Pejibaye's seed is conical and about 20 mm long. It is hard and
black and has a white interior.
U.S. National Academy of Science has considered this palm as an
underexploited tropical plant with a promising economic value for its
high productivity, its balanced and nutritious food value.
Disadvantages considered were the availability of superior, preferably
spineless, sucker planting material.
important, the Pejibaye is a particularly beautiful palm. Humboldt has
extolled the beauty of pupunha. He praised stands of these, with
clusters of its colourful fruits, as one of the finest sights of the