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Attalea speciosa - Mart.

Common Name Babassu, American Oil Palm, Motacu, Motacuchi
Family Arecaceae
USDA hardiness 10-12
Known Hazards The fine silicate crystals falling off the fruit can cause serious eye damage to the collectors[ 324 ].
Habitats Primary rainforest, usually becoming the dominant species[ 419 ]. Lowland areas, sometimes forming thickets of thousands of plants in warm and damp areas[ 314 ]. The plant also regenerates vigorously in open areas[ 419 ].
Range Northern and western S. America - Brazil, Bolivia, Guyana, Surinam.
Edibility Rating    (4 of 5)
Other Uses    (5 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care
Tender Moist Soil Full sun
Attalea speciosa Babassu, American Oil Palm, Motacu, Motacuchi


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Attalea speciosa Babassu, American Oil Palm, Motacu, Motacuchi
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Summary

An important crop in Northern Brazil for its wide range of uses, Babassu or Attalea speciosa is a monoecious, evergreen feather palm of up to 15-20 m tall with a trunk diameter of 40-50 cm. It has a dense crown composed of 15-20 large leaves. Babassu seed kernel is used as treatment for rheumatism and fever. Oil obtained from the seeds is used as cooking oil and for making butter. It is also used in making soap and candle. The seeds itself can also be eaten either raw or cooked; the endosperm of immature seeds is consumed as a drink. The stem yields a sap which is fermented into palm wine. The apical bud is edible as well. The leaves are used as thatch. As for the fruit, the epicarp is a primary source of fuel; the mesocarp is a potential source of industrial starch, glucose, or alcohol; and the endocarp is used as charcoal and as a substrate for hydroponics. The wood is used as construction material. Though babassu is relatively a slow-growing palm, it can still be used as a pioneer species when restoring native woodland and establishing a woodland garden. It also functions as an ornamental tree. Other names: Babacu palm, Cusi, Guaguazu, Cusino, Iba.


Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of cone
Attalea speciosa is an evergreen Tree growing to 30 m (98ft) by 20 m (65ft) at a slow rate.
It is hardy to zone (UK) 10 and is not frost tender. The flowers are pollinated by Bees, insects.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It cannot grow in the shade. It prefers moist soil and can tolerate drought.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map

Synonyms

Attalea glassmanii Zona Attalea lydiae (Drude) Barb.Rodr. Heptantra phalerata (Mart.) O.F.Cook Orbig

Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Fruit  Oil  Sap  Seed
Edible Uses: Oil

Edible portion: Oil, Fruit, Nuts, Palm heart, Cabbage, Sap. A good quality cooking oil is extracted from the seeds [ 301 , 419 ]. It can be used to make a butter[ 419 ]. Seeds - raw or cooked. They can be eaten as a snack or made into a nut milk[ 301 ]. The ellipsoid seeds are up to 6cm long by 1 - 2cm wide, there are usually 3 - 6 seeds in each fruit[ 324 ]. The nuts are extremely hard and difficult to crack[ 324 ]. The watery endosperm from immature seeds is consumed as a drink[ 301 , 419 ]. Very nourishing[ 419 ]. A sap obtained from the stem is fermented to make palm wine[ 301 ]. The apical bud is used as a food[ 301 , 324 ]. Harvesting this bud will effectively lead to the death of the trunk because it is unable to make side branches[ 301 ]. Ashes from the burnt stem are used as a salt substitute[ 301 ]. Babassu flour, mixed with milk and sugar, makes a chocolate-like drink[ 301 ].

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.


The leaves and liquid endosperm are used in local medicine[ 324 ]. The seed kernel is used in liniments as a treatment for rheumatism[ 739 ]. Ground into a powder and combined with sugar and water, it makes a refreshing and febrifuge emulsion[ 739 ].

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Other Uses

Oil

Other uses rating: Very High (5/5). Agroforestry Uses: Although somewhat slow growing, the plant can regenerate very vigorously in open areas, to the extent that it is considered to be a weed of pastures. This makes it an excellent species for restoring native woodland and, with its wide range of uses, it is also a very good species to use when establishing a woodland garden[ 303 , 419 , K ]. Other Uses The leaves are commonly used for thatch and basketry[ 324 , 454 ]. Young plants produce very large leaves before the stem is formed, and it is in this state that they are generally used for thatching. The unopened leaves from the centre are preferred since, though they require some preparation, they produce a more uniform thatch. The leaf is shaken until it falls partially open, and then each leaflet is torn at the base so as to remain hanging by its midrib only, which is, however, quite sufficient to secure it firmly. They thus hang all at right angles to the midrib of the leaf, which allows them to be laid in a very regular manner on the rafters[ 454 ]. The leaf petioles are used for laths for windows and adobe walls[ 324 ]. Decayed stems and leaves are used for mulch[ 324 ]. The oil from the seed is excellent for soap production because of its high (45%) lauric acid content[ 324 ]. It is also used for making candles[ 419 ]. The epicarp (ca. 15% of the fruit) is a primary fuel source[ 324 ]. The mesocarp (ca. 20% of the fruit) is a potential source of industrial starch, glucose or alcohol[ 324 ]. The endocarp (ca. 59% of the fruit) is an important source of high grade charcoal for the steel industry as well as source of distillation by-products such as tar, acetic acid, methane, etc[ 324 ]. It also has a potential use as a substrate for hydroponics[ 324 ]. Nut waste is also used locally as a fuel for cooking and to repel insects[ 324 ]. The wood is moderately heavy, soft and of low durability if exposed to the elements[ 419 ]. It is used for construction purposes in rustic buildings[ 324 , 419 ].

Special Uses

Carbon Farming

Cultivation details

Industrial Crop: Oil  Management: Standard  Regional Crop  Staple Crop: Oil

A plant of the lowland humid tropics, where it is found at elevations up to 500 metres[ 200 ], though it also succeeds in the subtropics and has some resistance to frost[ 314 ]. It grows in areas where the annual rainfall is 1,200 - 2,500 mm with a 4 - 6 months dry season[ 324 ]. Requires a sunny position[ 324 ]. Soils range from well-drained upland soils to gallery forest, although in severely flooded areas it occurs in elevated, non-flooded areas[ 324 ]. Prefers a deep well drained fertile soil[ 303 ]. Plants can tolerate some drought[ 419 ]. In a primary forest, seedlings require up to seven years to produce the first compound leaf and up to 42 years for other leaves. When cultivated without shade and in more favorable conditions, the plants can take just 10 years to mature[ 303 ].. The plant can regenerate very vigorously in open areas, so much so that it is considered to be an invasive weed in land that has been cleared for pasture[ 419 ]. The palms begin to bear when 8 - 12 years old[ 324 ]. The plant produces bunches of fruit that can be up to 1 metre long, weighing 14 - 90 kg[ 324 ]. Each bunch contains from 100 - 600 fruits, with 200 fruits being the average[ 324 ]. Wild groves can yield 1.5 - 2.5 tonnes per ha but, where the groves are thinned, yields range from 7 - 30 tonnes per ha with an average of 16 tonnes[ 324 ]. Individual trees with 7 bunches, each bunch of 600 nuts and weighing up to 90 kg are known[ 324 ].

Carbon Farming

  • Industrial Crop: Oil  Materials, chemicals and energy include bioplastics, biomass, glycerin, soaps, lubricants, paints, biodiesel. Oilseed crop types.
  • Management: Standard  Plants grow to their standard height. Harvest fruit, seeds, or other products. Non-Destructive management systems.
  • Regional Crop  These crops have been domesticated and cultivated regionally but have not been adopted elsewhere and are typically not traded globally, Examples in this broad category include perennial cottons and many nuts and staple fruits.
  • Staple Crop: Oil  (0-15 percent protein, 16+ percent oil). Some of these are consumed whole while others are exclusively pressed for oil. Annuals include canola, poppyseed, maize, cottonseed, sunflower, peanut. Perennials include high-oil fruits, seeds, and nuts, such as olive, coconut, avocado, oil palm, shea, pecan, and macadamia. Some perennial oil crops are consumed whole as fruits and nuts, while others are exclusively pressed for oil (and some are used fresh and for oil).

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Plants For A Future have a number of books available in paperback and digital form. Book titles include Edible Plants, Edible Perennials, Edible Trees, and Woodland Gardening. Our new book to be released soon is Edible Shrubs.

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Propagation

Seed - when stored in the shell, the seed can have a long viability of several years[ 324 ]. Fire or heat may be necessary to break dormancy[ 324 ]. Separate kernels may germinate within a few months[ 324 ]. Early growth is slow, concentrating initially on an extensive root system and consequently requiring large bags if grown in a nursery[ 324 ].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Babacu palm, Cusi, Guaguazu, Cusino, Iba.

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Found In: Amazon, Australia, Bolivia, Brazil, Guiana, Guyana, South America, Suriname, USA. It is a very important crop in Northern Brazil.

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

May be weedy

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed.

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Attalea butyraceaWine PalmTree20.0 10-12 MLMHNDM405
Attalea colendaPalma real, ChivilaTree25.0 10-12 MLMHNM403
Attalea funiferaBahia Piassava, Conquilla Nut, Piassaba PalmTree15.0 10-12 MLMHNDM104
Attalea maripaInaja, Maripa PalmTree15.0 10-12 MLMHSNM325

 

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Botanical References

Links / References

For a list of references used on this page please go here
A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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