Phoenix sylvestris (PROSEA)

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Plant Resources of South-East Asia
List of species

Phoenix sylvestris (L.) Roxburgh

Family: Palmae


Elate sylvestris L. (p.p.).

Vernacular names

  • Wild date palm, date sugar palm (En)
  • Thailand: inthaphalam-thai (south-western).


Wild in the Indus basin (Pakistan). Cultivated throughout the plains of India, Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar), south-western Thailand and occasionally elsewhere.


Sap is extracted from the top of the palm. It can be drunk directly as palm juice, but is often boiled down into sugar or fermented and distilled to produce a strong alcoholic beverage. The leaves are used to make mats and baskets. The fruits and seeds are edible. A kind of sago can be extracted from the stem and the wood can be used for construction and fuel. P. sylvestris is also widely cultivated as an ornamental.


A solitary, dioecious, glabrous, pleonanthic palm with stem up to 15 m tall and 30 cm in diameter, covered with persistent leaf bases. Leaves induplicate, pinnately compound, 2-4.5 m long; petiole short, bearing a few long sharp spines towards the apex; leaflets numerous, linear, 10-30 cm × 1-2.5 cm, glaucous, rigid, basal ones modified as spines. Inflorescence an interfoliar, branched spadix, up to 1 m long, male and female ones superficially similar; spikes numerous, in clusters, 10-30 cm long; male flowers angular, dense, with cupular 3-lobed calyx and 3 petals much exceeding the calyx, stamens 6; female flowers globose, distant, perianth as in male flowers, carpels 3. Fruit usually developing from 1 carpel, follicular, oblong-ellipsoid, 2-3 cm long, yellow to orange, exocarp smooth, mesocarp fleshy, endocarp membranous, 1-seeded. Germination remote-tubular.

P. sylvestris occurs in coastal plains, but is cultivated up to 1500 m altitude. It might be the wild ancestor of the date palm P. dactylifera L. Sap extraction from the side of the crown may start when the palm is 7-10 years old (trunk 1.20 m tall) and can continue for 20-25 years. Annual yield per palm amounts to 100 l juice, which can be converted into about 3 kg sugar. P. acaulis Buch.-Ham. ex Roxburgh (India, Burma (Myanmar), Thailand, Laos) and P. rupicola T. Anderson (eastern Himalayas) may have uses similar to P. sylvestris .

Selected sources

4, 13, 16, 25, 27, 30, 37, 40, 42, 48, 57, 73, 81, 85, 94.


L.E. Groen, J.S. Siemonsma & P.C.M. Jansen