Bactris gasipaes (PROSEA)
Bactris gasipaes Kunth
- Protologue: Kunth in: Humboldt, Bonpland and Kunth: Nova genera et species plantarum 1: 302 (1816).
- Family: Palmae
- Chromosome number: 2n= 28
- Guilielma speciosa Mart. (1824), nom. illeg.,
- Bactris utilis Benth. & Hook.f. ex Hemsley (1885),
- Guilielma gasipaes (Kunth) L.H. Bailey (1930).
- Pejibaye, peach palm (En)
- Palmier-pêche (Fr)
- South America: pejibaye, chontaduro, pupunha, paripou.
Origin and geographic distribution
The pejibaye is native to the humid lowlands of tropical America and is now cultivated in the Central and South American tropics from Honduras at 17°N through Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil to Bolivia at 17°S. It is virtually unknown in the wild. It has also been introduced to other tropical countries including South-East Asia, but has not yet become popular.
The uses of the starchy fruit resemble those of cassava. The fruit becomes edible after boiling in salted water. The lightly cooked fruit is dried and stored for 6 months or longer, after which it can be reconstituted by further boiling. Flour and meal for baking are also made from the dried fruit and some is roasted or fried to make savoury snacks. Boiled fruit, some of it canned in brine or vinegar, is sold in shops in Central America. Fresh fruit may be fermented to produce alcoholic drinks. The seed kernel is also edible.
Fruit of the more oily types is used to extract the oil, usually only the oleic oil from the pulp; however the lauric oil in the seed can also be extracted. The fruit (or residues from processing) makes an excellent feed for poultry and pigs.
Being a palm, pejibaye has many other uses; in addition to the fruit the palm heart or "palmito" is the most important product. Immature inflorescences may be eaten in a similar way as the fruit. The trunk of old palms can be utilized as ornamental wood, for fishing rods, bows and arrows, handles for tools, etc. The soft part of the stem may be used to make liquor. A cellulose may also be produced for cellophane paper and rayon.
Production and international trade
Although the palm has always been planted primarily for its fruit in shifting cultivation and home gardens, the first commercial plantations, about 1000 ha in Costa Rica in the 1980s, produce palm heart for export instead of the fruit. Fresh fruit and preserves are important items of trade in Central and South America, fresh fruit fetching US$ 0.15-0.25 per kg at the farmgate and US$ 0.50-1.50 in the market (Costa Rica, 1985).
In South-East Asia the palm is still virtually limited to botanical gardens.
The fruit has to be boiled to remove a proteolytic enzyme inhibitor which interferes with digestion. After boiling, the skin can easily be removed.
The fruit is extremely variable, the edible portion ranging from 40-98% of fruit weight; commonly it is 85-95%. Moisture content (25-82%, usually 50% or more), carbohydrates (14-85% of dry weight) and oil content (2-62% of dry weight) are major variables, leading to a useful distinction in starchy and oily fruit types. Protein content (3-18% of dry weight, usually about 6%) is high enough to balance the nutritive value of the fruit; of the 8 essential amino-acids only tryptophane is lacking. If the fruit flesh has a deep orange or yellow colour, it is rich in carotene; the content ranges from 0 to 70 mg per 100 g fresh pulp.
- Suckering palm usually with 4-5 trunks allowed to grow; individual trunks slender, 10-20 m tall and 10-30 cm in diameter, usually with rings of sharp spines, crown spreading.
- Leaves pinnate, about 3 m long; petiole up to 1 m long, armed with spines; leaf blade with numerous leaflets, crowded along a spiny rachis, arising in different planes so that the leaf has a slightly plumose appearance with drooping tips.
- Inflorescences appear among the old withering leaves, pendulous, spineless, composed of slender racemes, 20-30 cm long, on which the yellowish male and female flowers are mingled except at the tips which bear only male flowers.
- Infructescences with dense bunches of up to 300 fruits.
- Fruit a drupe, ovoid, 4-6 cm long, yellow-orange to red, dry. Up to 5 bunches per tree at a time, each weighing up to 10-12 kg. Seed 1 per fruit, conical, ca. 1.5 cm long, black, enclosed in the thin hard endocarp.
Growth and development
The seed takes 60-90 days to germinate. The seedling grows rapidly, increasing in height at the rate of 150-200 cm per year. After 21-27 months the trunk begins to form. Under favourable growing conditions the stem bears 15-25 leaves. Leaves emerge with great regularity, the interval ranging from 15 days in some plants to 24 in others. It takes about a year for a leaf initial to reach the spear stage and leaves also function for about one year. As a leaf declines and withers, the development of the inflorescence in its axil accelerates and 4 months later the inflorescence reaches anthesis. Harvest of the fruit follows after 4 more months. The first bunches are produced within 3-4 years after planting.
Pejibaye is a suckering palm. A few months after germination the first lateral shoot may already appear at the base of the plant, so that eventually a tight cluster of reproductive stems is formed. It is not clear how the palm divides its energy between fruiting and suckering.
Female flowers open in the late afternoon and are still receptive when, 24 hours later, the male flowers open for a few minutes to release their pollen before they drop off. Studies in Costa Rica show extremely interesting and precisely timed relations between flower opening and invasion of the inflorescence by successive swarms of different insects, including tiny weevils and scarab beetles, later followed by drosophilid flies and Trigona bees. The insects migrate from one inflorescence to the next, carrying pollen. Thus wind pollination may not be as important as it was once thought to be. Self-incompatibility is common. Fruit set in the few groups of pejibaye palms in South-East Asia appears to be good; pollinators have not been studied.
Flowering tends to be seasonal with one or two harvests per year and very little fruit during the off-season. Since rapid growth of the inflorescence takes place as the subtending leaf stops functioning, fluctuations in leaf abscission offer the simplest explanation for seasonal flowering. Under improving growing conditions the eldest leaves can prolong their usefulness, so that the rate of leaf fall drops. When the season changes and growing conditions worsen, leaf fall increases, releasing the inflorescences in their axils. This explanation implies that the flowering peak(s) would disappear if growing conditions - and hence the rate of leaf fall - remained the same throughout the year.
Growth has precedence over flowering. When a number of fruit bunches are growing - about 4-8 months after increased leaf shedding - and the load of fruit affects leaf growth, the supremacy of vegetative growth is restored by the abortion of inflorescences that are entering the stage of rapid growth before flowering. This of course accentuates the seasonality of fruiting. Inadequate pollination during a period of scanty flowering, leading to poor fruit set (and high incidence of parthenocarpic fruit), further reduces the off-season harvest.
Since growth has precedence, adverse growing conditions mainly affect flowering; conversely, improving growing conditions lead to a progressive increase in flowering and fruiting. Hence the palm responds very well to intensive care. It remains to be shown whether under ideal growing conditions a bunch can be produced in every leaf axil.
Other botanical information
Three other Bactris species have edible fruits: B. maraja Mart. (the maraja palm), B. guineenses (L.) H.E. Moore (the Tobago cane), and B. major N.J. Jacquin (the Columbian palm). The entire genus comprises more than 200 species, all in South America, but its taxonomy requires further study.
Pejibaye can be grown successfully in the tropics from sea level up to 800 m altitude; growth is slowed down at higher elevations. Temperature range for good growth is 24-28°C. Abundant rainfall is desirable; the annual precipitation ranges from 1900-6000 mm in the production centres.
The palm can be grown on poor, acid soils, but on fertile clays and clay loams the growth rate is higher. The soil should be well-drained.
Young seedlings may require partial shade for fast establishment, but the palms grow best in full sunlight.
Propagation and planting
Propagation of pejibaye is usually by seed, although vegetative propagation using suckers is possible. Methods for propagation through tissue culture are being worked out. Seeds are obtained from plants selected for desirable fruit characters, high production, and spinelessness. They are germinated in a shaded bed containing loam soil. Alternatively, seeds may be germinated in a transparent polythene bag placed inside another bag to maintain a high humidity. This improves and speeds up germination, prevents attacks by insects, and the plantlets can be easily transplanted without damaging the roots. Moulds are the main risk and the seeds must be thoroughly washed and treated with fungicide.
At the 2-leaf stage the seedlings are transplanted in 2 litre black polybags. In partial shade they grow rather fast and may be hardened off at about 4-5 months. When about 6 months old they are ready for field planting. The seedlings are planted in holes that are partially filled with animal manure, organic refuse and about 100 g P well mixed with the topsoil. Planting is done at the onset of the rainy season. Planting distance is 5-6 m for fruit production and as close as 2 m × 1 m for palm heart production.
Care and maintenance of the pejibaye plantation includes fertilization and control of weeds as well as pests and diseases. Young plants are given 25 g N twice a year. As the plants attain reproductive age, they are given 120 kg/ha N in three dressings per year, 100 kg/ha P once a year, 100 kg/ha K split in 2 applications, and 50 kg/ha Mg once a year. Herbicides are usually applied only when the plants are already tall enough not to be injured by the chemical.
Suckering has to be controlled for maximum fruit production. In home gardens 4-5 stems may be allowed per stool; for a plantation a single stem with a single sucker is recommended. The sucker is kept to replace the stem in case of casualties or when the main stem gets too high. When the height of the sucker exceeds 1.5 m, it is cut out in favour of a younger sucker. When it is time for a sucker to succeed, it is allowed to grow and the main stem is cut as soon as the sucker bears its first fruit. In palm heart production the number of suckers per stool depends on the spacing.
Diseases and pests
In America diseases attack the stem, leaves and fruits of the pejibaye. The Phytophthora fungus may attack the stem. Fungi attacking the leaves include Pestalotiopsis sp., Mycosphaerella sp. and Colletotrichum sp. Diseases of the fruits are caused by Monilia sp. and Ceratocystis sp. The pests attacking the pejibaye include the sugarcane weevil (Metamasius hemipterus), basal stem beetle (Strategeus aloeus) and foliage mite (Retracus johnstonii). Diseases and pests in South-East Asia have not yet been studied.
Fruit may be harvested green, but the taste is much better if the bunch is harvested ripe, i.e. after the colour has changed. Normally the bunch is cut with a knife mounted on a long pole; it is caught in a piece of sack cloth held up by 2 persons.
For palm heart 0.8-1 m long sections are cut and the outer leaf sheaths are removed, leaving the last hardened pair to protect the tender core. The first harvest is about 18 months after planting; ratoon crops can be cut after 6-12 months, depending on what palm heart size is preferred.
Current fruit yields are low, in the order of 2-3 t/ha per year where cacao is intercropped with pejibaye. Potential yields are thought to be 10-15 times as high and yields of 50-100 kg per trunk per year are not exceptional.
For palm hearts the yield ranges from 4000-6000 hearts per ha per year; the trend towards closer spacing and thinner hearts may raise yield to 10 000 hearts/ha per year.
Handling after harvest
The fruits do not keep well for more than 2-4 days after harvest. If they are not sold by that time, they should be boiled or processed in some other way before marketing.
The palm is very variable and through selection different types have come to be recognized in different parts of America. Segregation of characters in seedling populations is also very wide, including spineless to very spiny plants, large variations in bunch size and fruit size, colour, oil and starch content, etc. Extensive germplasm collections are maintained in Costa Rica and Brazil and also in Peru and the United States. In South-East Asia about 200 stools are growing in a few locations in Kuala Linggi and Serdang, Peninsular Malaysia and the palm is represented in collections in Bogor, Indonesia and Los Baños, the Philippines.
Breeding work started in the 1980s in Costa Rica and Brazil. Ideotypes have been defined for production of palm hearts as well as for fruit production. It is expected that quick gains can be made in per ha yields of starchy fruit or oil.
Pejibaye is an important traditional crop which is thought to have a great potential in the modern world too. The fruit is very nutritious and high potential yields may make it competitive with other basic food crops - and perhaps oil crops - in humid tropical environments.
Short-term perspectives are best for the production of palm hearts and since these are appreciated in South-East Asia, this may be the way to familiarize Asians with the palm, after which the fruit with its diverse uses may gradually become popular in the region.
- Asociación de los Nuevos Alquimistas, 1986. El pejibaye (Bactris gasipaes H.B.K.). Boletin Tecnico No 3, Proyecto Agroforestal ANAI, Talamanca, Limon, Costa Rica. 29 pp.
- Beach, J.H., 1984. The reproduction biology of the peach or "pejibaye" palm (Bactris gasipaes) and a wild congener (B. porschiana) in the Atlantic lowlands of Costa Rica. Principes 28(3): 107-119.
- Blombery, A.M. & Rodd, T., 1985. Palms - An informative, practical guide to palms of the world: their cultivation, care and landscape use. London. 199 pp.
- Clement, C.R., 1988. Domestication of the Pejibaye (Bactris gasipaes): past and present. Advances in Economic Botany 6: 155-174.
- Mora-Urpi, J., 1983. El pejibaye (Bactris gasipaes H.B.K.): origin, biología floral y manejo agronómico. [The pejibaye (Bactris gasipaes) H.B.K.): origin, floral biology and agronomic management]. In: CATIE/FAO. Palmeras poco utilizadas de América Tropical. Turrialba, Costa Rica. pp. 118-160.
- National Academy of Sciences. 1975. Underexploited tropical plants with promising economic value. Washington, D.C. pp. 73-77.
- Shaharudin Saamin & Musa, M.J., 1989. Other palms, their potential in plantation agriculture. Journal of the Perak Planters Association, 1989: 49-55.
Sources of illustrations
El Pejibaye (Bactris gasipaes H.B.K.) Serie de Boletines Technicos Para el Agricultor. Boletin Technica No. 3. Proyecto Agroforestal Anai, Talamanca, Limon. Front page. Redrawn and adapted by P. Verheij Hayes.
J.P. Mogea & E.W.M. Verheij