Areca catechu is the most widely cultivated species in the genus Areca and has been distributed by humans throughout the tropics. As a result of its long history of domestication, the geographic origin of this palm is not known with certainty (similar uncertainty surrounds the origin of Coconut (Cocos nucifera), Peach Palm (Bactris gasipaes ), and Sugar Palm (Arenga pinnata)). However, several origins have been suggested, including the Philippines, Malaysia, Celebes (Sulawesi), Java, New Guinea, and the Andaman Islands.
The seed of this palm ("areca nut") is used in the preparation of betel quid, generally by combining it with slaked lime (which reduces the astringency of the tannins of areca nut; releases its alkaloids, especially arecoline; and aids the overall freshening effect on the mouth, making the betel quid both more palatable and physiologically effective) and the leaf of Piper betle (betel leaf). Areca palm seed is now among the most important stimulant products in the world, used by around 200 to 600 million people globally. It is often said to rank in extent of use below only caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol among addictive plant products. When seeds of this species are unavailable, seeds of certain wild palm species such as Pinanga dicksonii in South India or Areca macrocalyx in the Moluccas and New Guinea are sometimes substituted as inferior alternatives.
The fruit of A. catechu turns a yellow to scarlet color as it ripens and then consists of a thick fibrous pericarp, the so-called husk, that encloses the seed. Like other Areca palms, this species is an understory palm and thrives in humid tropical forests at low to medium elevations. Unlike some other members of its genus, A. catechu readily self-seeds and is tolerant of open conditions Although this species is most often encountered in village gardens, it is also grown on large-scale plantations in some areas, notably in India. Because this palm is planted mainly for betel quid production, fruits and seeds have been the main target for selection by growers, although cultivation for ornamental purposes has increased in recent years. In cultivation, variation is seen in the overall growth habit and the size, shape, color, and even taste of the fruits and seeds. (ZumbroichI 2008; Heatubun et al. 2012 and references therein)
- Zumbroich, T.J. 2008. The origin and diffusion of betel chewing: a synthesis of evidence from South Asia, Southeast Asia and beyond. eJournal of Indian Medicine Volume 1 (2007–2008): 87–140.
- Heatubun, CD., J. Dransfield, T. FlynnS.S. Tjitrosoedirdjo, J.P. Mogea, and W.J. Baker. 2012. A monograph of the betel nut palms (Areca: Arecaceae) of East Malesia. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 168: 147–173.
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