Sugar palm flowers CAMBODIA UNCOVERED

Sugar palm trees


Sugar palm tree - National Khmer icon

The sugar palm tree - 'skor t'not' (Borassus flabellifer) is one of Cambodia's national icons. It is found throughout Cambodia and plays a very important role in providing a source of income for many Khmer as well as providing material for many home uses. It is a multi-purpose tree - every part of the tree is used for something - and often parts have many uses. Khmer use the timber for construction (houses, boats - dug out canoes), cooking and eating implements (chopsticks, spoons, forks, bowls, cups and plates), the leaves are used for many purposes (thatch for roof and walls, mats, baskets, fans and hats), branches are used for fencing and to make thongs/flip flops and juice and fruit are harvested and eaten and used for many things. Indeed the sharp edges of the fronds were also used by the Khmer Rouge to cut the throats of other Khmer

Palm juice is collected from both the male and female flowers. The male flowers will produce for 3 months but the female flowers will provide juice for up to six months. Some Khmer farmers can even harvest the juice all year round but common collection times are from November to March. If one looks carefully you will often see rickety bamboo ladders fixed to the trees. Bamboo containers are left in the tree and each morning, the juice collector will climb the tree to collect the juice that has been collecting overnight. The containers are then strung over one's shoulder or fixed to a bicycle and the collector becomes a travelling salesperson going to villages until all the juice has been sold. On average, 5 litres of juice can be collected daily which is a reliable source of income for those collecting and selling the juice. The juice can also be boiled to make palm sugar. The sugar is boiled, condenses and round, brown tablets are made which are used in Khmer cooking. Palm sugar, seen throughout markets everywhere is often added to food to give a sweet taste
Juice can only be harvested after about 15 years of maturity but it depends on the soil type. They are said to be able to produce juice for about 55 years

Fruit is also harvested once the flowers stop producing juice. These can be seen for sale along the side of the road during the first half of the year. The fruits can be eaten fresh or preserved. Some farmers feed part of the fruit to animals

The leaves are harvested to be woven into thatch. Many houses have a thatched roof and some houses even use it as walls for their house. Mats, fans and baskets are also made with leaves and are very practical as well as appealing. Leaves are only harvested after juice collection is complete otherwise juice is not plentiful

The hard and heavy timber (trunk and branches) can be used for housing, furniture, dug out canoes and various cooking implements. Many guests will see these items however sugar palm timber is often mistaken as coconut timber. Plates, cups, chopsticks and other cooking items are very attractive with the timber having various colours or brown and white scattered throughout the timber

Fronds are often seen as fencing around houses and are a cheap way for farmers to keep animals out of their gardens

The base of the frond (where it meets the trunk) was used during the Khmer Rouge regime to make shoes - a type of thong/flip flop due to its thickness and strength. It is also used as a kind of shovel due to its natural curve which is able to collect dirt. The edges of the fronds are serrated and during Pol Pot's time, they were often used as a saw - torturing people by cutting their throats. Thankfully these days, they are no longer used for this purpose

These palm trees are seen all over Cambodia and for many Khmer, represent the 'real' Cambodia. They look picturesque particularly during the early wet season as they stand among emerald green rice fields

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