Rhamnaceae (Buckthorn family)

Description. Bushy, mostly evergreen tree, 8-12 m (26-39 ft) tall, with short spines on characteristic zigzag branches. Alternate, simple leaves ovate to elliptic, 3-6 cm (1.2-2.4 in) long by 2-4 cm (0.8-1.6 in) wide with soft brown or whitish hairs on the underside of the blade. Tiny greenish-yellow to yellow flowers with 5 petals are produced in axillary cymes. Round or oval fruits 2-5 cm (0.8-2 in) long have a smooth, thin skin and vary in color from orange or brown to reddish-brown and red. The flesh is light brown, soft, slightly mealy and has an agreeable subacid to sweet flavor reminiscent of apples. Fruits contain a single stone with 2 seeds.


Origin and Distribution. Probably native to India; the plant spread in prehistoric times by way of human migration to the Middle East, northern Africa, Southeast Asia, and southern China. Z. mauritiana grows best under hot, dry, sunny conditions with a short rainy season and annual rainfall of 300- 1,500 mm (12-60 in). Food uses. The fruits of sweet varieties are blended with water, sugar, and ice to make a popular fruit drink. Dried fruits are made into a butterlike paste used as a condiment. More acidic varieties are used mostly for pickling and the preparation of chutneys. Slightly underripe fruits are often eaten with salt. In Indonesia and in Africa, young leaves are cooked and eaten, and the fermented and dried pulp is pressed into cakes resembling gingerbread.

Comments. The tree is often planted in poor rural communities in dry regions of Africa and India to provide food, erosion prevention, firewood, and living fences. The fruit is a good source of vitamin A and a very good source of vitamin C. Z. jujuba (Chinese jujube) is native to semiarid, temperate, and subtropical regions from South Asia to China. The fruits of this frost-resistant species are often eaten dried as a snack. Z. nummularia is native to Pakistan and western India, where it grows naturally in arid regions. The fruits are usually eaten fresh.

For those from cold climates, palms are the quintessential tropical tree, virtual emblems of the exotic, whether dotting a seashore or providing shade in some tropical garden. For people who live in tropical or subtropical places, especially in rural areas, many palm species are critically important plants, used on a daily basis for food and drink (including palm wine), construction, furniture, firewood, thatching material, and the production of countless other goods, from waxes to oils and ropes to baskets.

Except for the grass family (Poaceae), no other plant family contains as many useful plants as the palm family. They have been used intensively by people throughout history, playing a vital role in tribal customs, mythology, and religion.

All palms belong to the family Arecaceae, which comprises more than 2,600 species. Although a very diverse group botanically, most palms have single (or multiple) unbranched trunks, with palmately or pinnately compound leaves arranged at the top of the trunk. Palms reach their greatest diversity in the tropics, where they occur from sea level to 4,000 m (13,000 ft), in rainforests, swamps, savannas, deserts, and a range of other habitats.


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