Eremospatha macrocarpa (PROTA)
Eremospatha macrocarpa (G.Mann & H.Wendl.) H.Wendl.
- Protologue: Les Palmiers: 244 (1878).
- Family: Arecaceae (Palmae)
- Calamus macrocarpus G.Mann & H.Wendl. (1864),
- Eremospatha sapini De Wild. (1916).
- Small rattan palm, large-fruit rattan palm (En).
Origin and geographic distribution
Eremospatha macrocarpa is distributed from Sierra Leone to the Central African Republic and DR Congo.
The whole stems are ideal for building cane bridges due to their flexibility. They are also used for binding in house construction and for making furniture. In Ghana they are woven into screens for fencing. The split stems are used for making baskets and mats. The bark is easily peeled off and provides strong cordage. The leaves are used for thatching. Potential uses of the stem include the production of particle board and briquettes from waste material from furniture making. In traditional medicine in Ghana and Nigeria the powdered root is taken for the treatment of syphilis.
Production and international trade
The cane of Eremospatha macrocarpa is widely traded and one of the favoured commercial rattans in West and Central Africa. However, very limited information is available on rattan exports from African countries. It is known that Ghana supplied a significant proportion of the canes in the United Kingdom market during the period between the two World Wars. There have also been reports of export of raw cane from Ghana and Nigeria to South-East Asia, and of a flourishing export trade from Nigeria to Korea. The local trade forms a significant part of the local economy in both rural and urban communities, with many people involved in the rattan industry. In Ghana, for instance, the rattan industry is estimated to contribute about 20% of the total revenue from the trade in non-timber forest products (NTFPs). However, many processors have complaints about the low price they get for finished products. For example, 50% of weavers in Ghana mentioned the low price of and irregular demand for finished products as the most important constraints in the marketing of rattan products. In urban areas products are rarely sold from formal display centres but mostly in informal stalls along roads. The amount of rattan canes supplied to urban markets in West and Central Africa has been estimated at a total length of 340,000 m per month. The unit of trade of commercial rattans is the ‘packet’, which, for small-diameter canes such as Eremospatha macrocarpa, comprises 20 stems 5 m long.
Eremospatha macrocarpa is the best source of cane in Africa. The stems are flexible and of comparable quality to the small-diameter rattans of South-East Asia. The stem is reddish brown and light to medium weight, with a density of 440–560 kg/m³ when oven-dry. At 12% moisture content stems from Nigeria had a modulus of rupture of 11 N/mm² and a modulus of elasticity of 520 N/mm². The stems are fairly durable but susceptible to attacks by termites. Air-dried samples of the stems in Nigeria were recorded to contain per 100 g: water 16.2 g, energy 1336 kJ (319 kcal), protein 3.9 g, fat 0.5 g, carbohydrate 77.9 g, ash 1.6 g, Ca 187 mg, Mg 39 mg.
Adulterations and substitutes
Calamus deërratus G.Mann & H.Wendl., a species considered to be of inferior quality is sometimes utilized in the absence of Eremospatha macrocarpa.
Slender to moderately robust rattan palm, growing in clumps; stem up to 50–75(–150) m long, 8–19 mm in diameter without sheaths, 22–30 mm in diameter with sheaths, internodes 20–33 cm long. Leaves up to 3.5 m long, pinnately compound with up to 25 leaflets on each side of the rachis; sheath longitudinally striate, unarmed; ocrea entire, saddle-shaped, with rounded lobe 2.5–4 cm long; petiole short in leaves of juvenile palms, absent in older ones; rachis 1–1.5 m long, unarmed, distally prolonged into cirrus up to 2 m long bearing acanthophylls (leaflets modified into reflexed hooks) c. 3 cm long; leaflets of juvenile palms sharply bifid, leaflets of adult ones linear to lanceolate, generally drooping, 22–35 cm × 2–2.5 cm, narrowly praemorse at the apex, with sharp teeth on the margins and pointed ends. Inflorescence axillary, up to 55 cm long, arching outwards, branched to 1 order; rachis 25–40 cm long; branches horizontal; peduncle 10–15 cm long. Flowers in pairs, bisexual, sessile, buff yellow, very fragrant; calyx c. 3 mm long, thick, leathery, shallowly 3-lobed; corolla c. 10 mm long, thick, leathery, with 3 valvate lobes; stamens 6, united into a ring; gynoecium 3-carpellate. Fruit cylindrical to oblong-ellipsoid, 2–3 cm × 1–1.5 cm, pale orange to brown, with 15–24 rows of scales, 1(–2)-seeded. Seeds compressed, c. 2 cm × 1.5 cm × 1 cm.
Other botanical information
Eremospatha is one of the three rattan genera endemic to Africa. It comprises 11 species, which are easily distinguished from each other on the basis of vegetative characteristics.
The cross section of the stem shows three distinct regions: epidermis, cortex and central cylinder. The epidermis consists of a single layer of almost square parenchyma cells 9.9–16.8 μm long and 9–13.3 μm wide. The cortex consists of fibre bands (rudimentary vascular bundles) embedded in parenchyma cells, lying ring-like around the central cylinder. The cortex is 73–373 μm wide. The cortical cells are interconnected, round to oval in shape, with varying sizes; they are more lignified in the basal internodes than at the top. There are 2–3 fibre rows just below the epidermis. The central cylinder is composed of vascular bundles embedded in ground parenchyma. The vascular bundles consist of conducting tissue (xylem and phloem), surrounded by a fibre sheath and parenchyma. Per vascular bundle there are two metaxylem vessels 150–440 μm wide, the protoxylem consists of a cluster of 2–10 vessels, and the phloem consists of a single field with 4–12 sieve tubes. The surrounding fibre sheath is slightly broader in the peripheral and basal vascular bundles than in the inner and top ones. The fibre cells are 0.2–2.6 mm long and 8.7–43.5 μm wide, with a lumen width of 1.5–37.7 μm and a cell wall thickness of 2.9–26.1 μm. The ground parenchyma cells are round to oval in shape with uniform sizes.
Growth and development
Eremospatha macrocarpa has a long germination period and high initial seed mortality. In Cameroon an annual extension growth of 3.2 m has proven possible, making Eremospatha macrocarpa very suitable for short rotation agroforestry. All Eremospatha species are pleonanthic, i.e. the stems do not die after flowering. The seeds of most African rattans are dispersed primarily by birds (especially hornbills). However, primates, predominantly drills and mandrills (two species of forest primate related to the baboon), chimpanzees and gorillas are also key dispersal agents, as are elephants. Predation by rodents accounts for some additional dispersal.
Eremospatha macrocarpa occurs in forest margins, gaps and regrowth vegetation. It is extremely light-demanding and responds well to selective logging in the forest. The species is rare in swamp forest.
Propagation and planting
In Africa rattans are usually exploited from wild sources, and there is little cultivation despite favourable ecological factors and growth rates that suggest cultivation would be feasible. This contrasts with the situation in South-East Asia, where traditional rattan cultivation practices exist such as the cultivation in mixed gardens by sedentary cultivators or in recently burned forests by shifting cultivators. In Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon community-based trials concentrating on the introduction of rattans into agroforestry systems and enrichment planting of farm bush and secondary forest have been established but farmer adoption has remained low.
Propagation by seed is possible, but germination is slow and seed mortality high. Trials in Cameroon showed germination rates of 32.5%, with a time to first emergence of 96 days. In nursery trials with suckers in Côte d’Ivoire shoots emerged 43–93 days after planting.
In on-farm trials in Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon a high post-planting mortality was recorded, which is attributed to neglect and predation by rodents.
In Africa rattans are considered open-access resources, and there are very few, if any customary laws regulating exploitation of wild rattan. Where they exist, external commercial harvesters often pay a small sum to the Chief and Council of the local village for access to the forest. Most national forestry codes still do not include the exploitation of NTFPs in their regulations and thus for most commercially important products including rattans, over-harvesting is uncontrolled and unabated. In Ghana, where exploitation of NTFPs is supposed to be governed by licenses and permits, there are no adequate monitoring systems for the exploitation of these resources, nor are they subject to the full forestry taxes related to the exploitation of these resources. Where those who harvest the rattan have more defined resource tenure, younger stems are not removed and are left to regenerate to provide a future source of cane, usually on a two- to three-year rotation.
Diseases and pests
The stems have very high starch and moisture contents, which render them highly susceptible to attacks by fungi and insects. Fungi cause discoloration of the canes, while beetles cause pinholes or worm holes. Defects resulting from infections by fungi and beetles can result in severe post-harvest losses.
Seedlings of Eremospatha macrocarpa are eaten by rodents.
Rattans are harvested manually, which can be difficult activity, particularly when rattans become entangled with each other and in the canopies of adjacent trees. The leaves of Eremospatha macrocarpa have thorns which may result in various forms of injury to collectors, and better and more efficient methods of harvesting such as the use of simple but effective tools and wearing of adequate protective clothing are called for. The choice of the method used for harvesting rattans from their clumps may influence the survival and growth of new stems as well as regeneration of cut stems. Sustainable harvesting means taking into consideration variables such as the number of mature stems that can be removed from a clump, the height at which to cut the cane from the ground, the harvesting cycle, the maturity of the stem, removal of entangled upper stems to create gaps and the length of the stem to be harvested.
Handling after harvest
After the extraction of the stems from the forest, they are bundled in packets to be sold. Processing of the raw cane involves removing the epidermis (skin) from the stem and drying the raw cane. In much of Africa this is done manually by scraping the stem with a kitchen knife to remove the skin and then drying the raw cane, which is usually done in the open with little or no preservative treatment. Transportation from the forest to the roadsides or villages is usually by head-portering, which influences the price of cane and cane products, as nowadays harvesters have to travel long distances to harvest the canes.
Eremospatha macrocarpa is widespread and locally common throughout its range. It is not considered threatened according to IUCN criteria, but populations easily accessible to harvesters are under great pressure which could lead to a loss of entire populations, thus eroding the genetic base.
Eremospatha macrocarpa will remain one of the most desired rattans of Africa. Surprisingly little information is available on the species, and research is needed to assess its potential for cultivation, although initial research has shown that issues such as land tenure and the relative abundance of rattans in the wild keep adoption of cultivation by farmers low. There are also prospects for better processing of the raw cane to produce high quality products of international standards that are able to compete on the global market. Sustainable management of the species can help in poverty alleviation in the rural and urban communities involved in the harvest and manufacture of rattan products.
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Sources of illustration
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Correct citation of this article
Opuni-Frimpong, E. & Acheampong Owusu, S. & Ebanyenle, E. & Sunderland, T.C.H., 2011. Eremospatha macrocarpa (G.Mann & H.Wendl.) H.Wendl. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <http://www.prota4u.org/search.asp>.
Accessed 23 May 2022.
- See the Prota4U database.