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Carludovica palmata (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Carludovica palmata Ruiz & Pav.

Protologue: Syst. veget. fl. peruv. chil.: 291 (1798).
Family: Cyclanthaceae
Chromosome number: 2n= 18


Ludovia palmata (Ruiz & Pav.) Pers. (1807), Carludovica gigantea Kuntze (1891), C. jamaicensis Lodd. ex Fawcett & Harris (1902).

Vernacular names

  • Panama hat palm, Panama hat plant, jippi-jappa (En)
  • Thailand: paam tham muak paanaamaa (Trang).

Origin and geographic distribution

The natural distribution of C. palmata is probably from Guatemala through Central America and north-western South America to central Bolivia; in this area it is also cultivated. In other parts of South America, the West Indies and southern Mexico it has probably been introduced. C. palmata has also been introduced into Asia, from India and Sri Lanka through South-East Asia (e.g. Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines) to Taiwan, and more recently Africa. It has sometimes escaped from cultivation.


The young leaves of C. palmata are made into the famous Panama hats, which are still widely used today. The true Panama hats are made not in Panama, but mainly in Ecuador and to a lesser extent in Colombia and Peru. They probably derived their name from their trans-shipment through Panama. C. palmata is, however, used in Central America for making lesser-quality hats for local use. In South-East Asia hats are made of C. palmata in Indonesia and the Philippines, mainly for the tourist industry. In pre-Columbian times, South American Indians used C. palmata leaves to weave mats. Older and coarser leaf material still widely serves for making mats, baskets, cigar cases, small bags and similar objects, whereas mature leaves and the stiff outer leaf segments are made into brooms. C. palmata leaves are also utilized for thatching, and the petiole fibres for cordage, lashing materials and traps. The fruits and the basal portion of the unopened leaf buds are edible. C. palmata is grown pantropically as an ornamental.

Production and international trade

The main centres of Panama hat production are the Ecuadorian Provinces of Azuay, Cañar and Manabi, whereas the best weaving material of C. palmata is obtained in Manglar Alto in Guayas Province, where the plant is cultivated. In the 1940s more than 4 million hats were exported annually from Ecuador, but exports decreased in the early 1950s due to competition from Japan and the Philippines. The value of Panama hat exports from Ecuador in 1992 was about US$ 4.6 million. More recent production and trade statistics are not available.


Good Panama hats of C. palmata have a uniform and fine texture, and are strong, durable, elastic and resistant to water. The best hats, which may take several weeks to make, are so soft and finely woven that they can be rolled up easily. For one Panama hat 6-15 leaves are required. It has been said that a superior quality is made from a single leaf without any joinings, but it is unlikely that one leaf can provide enough material for a hat. The quality of the hat depends as much on skill in treating the leaves and suitable weather conditions as on the material employed. Good hats cannot be made during dry summer weather nor during very wet weather. Roofs thatched with C. palmata leaves are very durable.

Adulterations and substitutes

In South-East Asia hats are made of a range of other plants, especially Cyperaceae , Palmae and Pandanaceae .


An erect, palm-like, monoecious, rhizomatous, perennial herb, 1.5-4(-5) m tall, usually growing in dense clumps. Stem absent or short and underground. Leaves dispersed; petiole subterete, 1-3.5(-4) m long, sheathing at base; blade usually lobed nearly to the base, tricostate, (30-)50-80(-90) cm long and wide, the (3-)4(-5) lobes wedge-shaped, their apical parts again divided into long segments. Inflorescence a spadix, borne in the axil of leaves near ground level; peduncle during anthesis 20-50 cm long, in fruiting stage 1 m or longer, considerably thicker than the petiole; spadix at first enclosed by 3-4 spathes which fall and leave the spadix naked; spathes lanceolate to ovate, 10-35 cm × 3-5.5 cm, acuminate to subcuspidate, the 2 lower ones green and coarse, the 2 upper ones creamy-white to greenish-white; spadix cylindrical, at anthesis 9-22 cm × 1-4 cm; surface of spadix covered with groups of 5 flowers, each group consisting of one central female flower sunken in the spadix surrounded by 4 male flowers; male flowers fleshy, massive, without distinct pedicel, rounded to angular, 3-5 mm long, receptacle flat or shallowly concave, 2-3 mm in diameter, surrounded by a cup-like perianth which bears 15-20, rotundate, apiculate, glanduliferous lobes 1-1.5 mm × 0.4-0.8 mm; stamens 30-55, densely crowded, filaments 0.1-0.2 mm long, slightly thickened at base, anthers 1-1.7 mm × 0.4-0.5 mm; female flowers suborbicular to quadrangular, during anthesis 3-5 mm broad, in fruiting stage up to 10 mm broad; tepals 4, connate at base, obtusely triangular, during anthesis 1.5-3 mm × 2.5-4.5 mm, closely pressed against the style and stigmas and partly connate with the style, in fruiting stage becoming truncate and connate to about half their length, up to 3 mm × 6 mm; staminodes 4, filiform, 3-6 mm long, yellowish-white to silken-white, forming a disordered mass on the flowering spadix; pistil with ovary one-loculed bearing 4 placentas, style one, short at first, later prolonged, together with stigmas 2.5-3.5 mm long, stigmas 4, alternating with the tepals, generally rather broad, ovate to suborbicular when seen from above, entirely encircled by the tepals. Fruit a berry but all berries of the spadix fused to a single, fleshy, yellow-green, cylindrical syncarp up to 30 cm × 5.5 cm; the fruiting layer begins to open in the apical part, being cleft in usually 2 flaps which are successively detached from the rachis and from each other and more or less rolled, showing the bright orange-red to scarlet interior tissue containing small berries with minute slimy seeds. Seed irregularly cylindrical to suborbicular, usually angular, 1.5-3 mm × 1-1.5 mm, dull yellow-white.

Growth and development

Under hot and moist conditions C. palmata seeds normally germinate within 2 weeks. During germination the cotyledon is enclosed in the seed. The first leaves are undivided and lack a petiole. During subsequent growth the shape and size of newly formed leaves gradually change until the characteristic lobate leaves appear. The leaves grow to their full length while they are still folded. The inflorescence of C. palmata is protogynous, with the female flowers being ripe when the spathes open, which is usually at night. Beetles are attracted by the fragrant odour of the staminodes. They stay in the spadix during the day. During the following night, when the female flowers are no longer functional, the anthers of the male flowers open, the beetles eat pollen and become covered with it, leave the inflorescence and fly to an inflorescence in the female flowering stage, where they carry out pollination. After shedding pollen, the male flowers wither and drop off and a syncarp is formed from the female flowers as they enlarge and fuse, forming a thin outer woody layer on the syncarp, with shrivelled remains of the perianth and styles. At maturity, this layer dries up, splits and carries away the red inner tissue containing the small berries filled with slimy seeds. Dispersal is perhaps by ants and rain.

Other botanical information

Though the vernacular name "Panama hat palm" suggests otherwise, C. palmata is not a palm. The Cyclanthaceae are, however, closely related to the Palmae , Pandanaceae and Araceae , and can be regarded as advanced derivatives of the palms. Carludovica Ruiz & Pav. contains 3 species and is distributed from south-eastern Mexico to central Bolivia. C. palmata is a polymorphous species, with great variation in both vegetative and floral characters, but the lack of good herbarium material makes an adequate intraspecific classification difficult. The other 2 species are C. drudei Mast., grown as an ornamental in Java, and C. rotundifolia H. Wendl. ex Hook.f. Both may have been used in hat manufacture as well and in any case seem suitable, because their leaves are very similar to those of C. palmata .


C. palmata mainly grows in humid tropical forests up to 1400-1500 m altitude, though it is occasionally found in drier and more open locations, such as roadsides, pastures and scrubland. For optimal growth it requires a hot tropical climate with plenty of rain, but it will not withstand waterlogging, and it is best grown in the shade. Although C. palmata can grow under various climatic conditions, high quality hats can only be made in weather that is neither too dry nor too wet.

Propagation and planting

C. palmata can be propagated by seed, suckers and rhizomes. Suckers are often preferred because plants grown from them require less time before the leaves can be harvested. In Campeche (south-eastern Mexico) rhizomes collected from local populations are planted 1 m apart, resulting in a density of 10 000 plants/ha.


No information is available on the husbandry of C. palmata in South-East Asia. In Campeche the fields are weeded every few weeks during the first year after planting, until the crop provides enough shade to prevent weed growth. Later on, the fields are regularly thinned to prevent overcrowding. Thinned out plants may be sold as planting material. Fertilizers are rarely applied, but the plots may be irrigated.

Diseases and pests

There are no records of serious diseases and pests of C. palmata in South-East Asia. In Mexico a serious leaf yellowing disease has been observed since 1994. The causal agent is a phytoplasma closely related to the one that causes lethal yellowing disease in coconut ( Cocos nucifera L.).


C. palmata grown from seed requires about 7 years before the leaves can be harvested, whereas leaves can be cut from plants raised from suckers at 18 months after planting, when they have about 20-30 leaves. The leaves are collected while they are still folded or just beginning to fan out. They are cut with a sharp knife, with about 2.5 cm of the petiole left attached to the blade to facilitate handling. In Indonesia the leaves are cut off with about 5-8 cm of the petiole remaining attached. As the lower leaves are cut, new ones develop quickly and leaves can be harvested from the plant throughout its life.


No statistics on the yield of C. palmata per plant or per ha are available. In south-eastern Mexico C. palmata produces a usable leaf every 15 days.

Handling after harvest

The harvested leaves of C. palmata , sometimes with the outer segments removed, are usually boiled in water for a few minutes or repeatedly dipped into boiling water. Lemon juice may be added to the water to facilitate bleaching. Subsequently, the leaves are dried and bleached, sometimes in the sun but more often in the shade. Sufficiently bleached leaves are split into uniform strips, which are still connected at the leaf base. Splitting may be done with thumb- and fingernails, with a needle or with a comb of needle points set in a wooden handle. The resulting strips are washed and dried. They may also be immersed in boiling water again or bleached in sulphur fumes while they are still moist. As they dry, the strips, which may be 1 m long, shrivel into a cylindrical form, and they are sold this way to the weavers. Sometimes the harvested leaves are retted in water, after which the pulp and extraneous matter are scraped off, leaving the fibre, which is subsequently bleached. In Indonesia the outer 2-3 leaf segments are removed from the harvested leaves, as well as some inner parts too stiff for handling. The nerves are removed with a needle and the remaining strips are divided into 2-3 ribbons, depending on the required fineness of the product. The bundle of ribbons, held together by the petiole, is dipped into boiling water for one to several minutes and dried.

Hats are plaited by hand from leaf strips of uniform thickness. Where the climate is hot and dry, the weavers moisten the strips repeatedly to keep them pliable. For this reason weaving in some places is done mainly in the early morning when the weather is wet. In Java C. palmata can be woven throughout the day, if care is taken not to expose the material too much to the sun. First, the top of the crown is woven, for which several strips are used, still joined at the base, and new strips are added when necessary. When half the crown is completed, it is placed on a wooden block of the required size and weaving is continued down to the brim, which is carefully edged. The hats are sold in this form at fairs, where they are bought by exporters. The hats are washed in water and soap, dried in the sun and further bleached with sulphur, after which they are placed on wooden blocks of the required size, dampened with water, ironed into the proper shape and dried in the sun. Then they are removed from the blocks and trimmed with a sharp knife, after which a mixture of sulphur, water and gum is brushed on the inner and outer side of the hats. The hats are dried again and beaten with a wooden mallet on a post or block, after which they are cleaned, examined and trimmed. The finished hats are graded and classified according to the thickness of the weave. The production of Panama hats is a traditional part-time cottage industry in Ecuador, with a specific design woven into the centre of the hat crown signifying the locality or the maker.

Genetic resources and breeding

The genetic variation in C. palmata has not been recorded or studied so its genetic status is unknown. No germplasm collections or breeding programmes of C. palmata are known to exist.


Though there is an international market for hats made of C. palmata , it will be difficult for South-East Asian countries to compete in this market, in view of the long tradition of hat-making in South America. There is also little prospect for C. palmata becoming more important for local use, as there are many other plant resources in South-East Asia with a longer tradition of being used for similar purposes. Moreover, the market in South-East Asia is limited as the habit of wearing woven hats is not widely practised here, except for working in the sun or for open-air leisure purposes. Therefore the main prospects for C. palmata in South-East Asia are in the tourist industry.


1 Anonymous, 1930. Panama hat industry in Ecuador. Bulletin of the Imperial Institute 28: 461-463. 2 Bennett, B.C., Alarcón, R. & Cerón, C., 1992. The ethnobotany of Carludovica palmata Ruíz & Pavón (Cyclanthaceae) in Amazonian Ecuador. Economic Botany 46(3): 233-240. 3 Cordova, I., Oropeza, C., Almeyda, H. & Harrison, N.A., 2000. First report of a phytoplasmaassociated leaf yellowing syndrome of Palma Jipi plants in southern Mexico. Plant Disease 84(7): 807.

  • Fadiman, M., 2001. Hat weaving with jipi, Carludovica palmata (Cyclanthaceae) in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Economic Botany 55(4): 539-544.
  • Gottsberger, G., 1990. Flowers and beetles in the South American Tropics. Botanica Acta 103(4): 360-365. 6 Harling, G., 1958. Monograph of the Cyclanthaceae. Acta Horti Bergiani 18: 1-428. 7 Heyne, K., 1927. De nuttige planten van Nederlandsch-Indië [The useful plants of the Dutch East Indies]. 2nd Edition. Departement van Landbouw, Nijverheid en Handel in Nederlandsch Indië. (3rd Edition, 1950. W. van Hoeve, 's-Gravenhage the Netherlands / Bandung, Indonesia). pp. 416-417.
  • von Hagen, V.W., 1949. Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma, United States. pp. 81-89.


H.C. Ong