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The peach palm or peyibay(e), Bactris gasipaes, is a tropical spiny palm in the palm family Aracacea, one of the few edible palms in its genus of about 50 species.  A fast-growing, erect palm, it reaches a mature height of up to 20 m (60 feet) in 8-12 years, becoming difficult to climb because much of the trunk is ringed with sharp spines.  A single palm can grow multiple stems producing multiple clusters of 50-300 drupe fruits, each cluster weighing about 25 pounds (11 kg).  The individual ovoid-conical shaped fruits have a red or yellow outer layer (exocarp) and orange inner flesh (mesocarp) and are variable in size, growing to about 400 g (0.9 pounds) with a small hard seed (endocarp) inside bearing an oily white kernel.  

Bactris gasipaes grows especially along rivers basins below 1800 m (6000 feet) in elevation on the edges of mostly humid forests in its native origin: Amazonian Columbia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil.  The most important palm for Pre-Columbian Amerindians, it was introduced into Costa Rica before 2300 BC, where it naturalized.  It is cultivated in Central and South America, and also in Southern Florida, parts of the Caribbean and the Philippines.  It's economic importance as a food crop is increasing, especially as a source of palmetto (palm heart, harvested from the tip of the trunk); the less-perishable forms of the fruit, such as flour and oils, are also increasingly exported world-wide. 

Indiginous people used every part of this tree: the seeds were roasted and eaten like chestnuts, the fruit boiled for human consumption and fed to livestock; the fruit was also fermented into alcoholic drinks.  The palm’s strong, flexible wood worked well for building and making spears, bows and arrows; its spiny outer stem was sometimes draped around chicken houses to deter predators, or despined strips were fashioned into beds.  The nutritional palm heart was consumed; sap extracted from the trunk to ferment into a potent drink; young flowers eaten, leaves woven into baskets and used for thatching roofs, and roots ground for medicinal purposes.

Grown in many countries, the peach palm is known by a multitude of names: pejivalle in Costa Rica; peach-nut, pewa or pupunha in Trinidad; piva in Panama; cachipay, chichagai, chichaguai, contaruro, chonta, choritadura, chenga, jijirre, pijiguay, pipire, pirijao, pupunha, or tenga in Colombia; bobi, cachipaes, rnacanilla, melocoton, pichiguao, pihiguao, pijiguao, piriguao, or pixabay in Venezuela; comer, chonta, and tempe in Bolivia; chonta dura, chonta ruru, pijuanyo, pifuayo, sara-pifuayo, pisho-guayo in Peru; amana, in Surinam; parepon in French Guiana; popunha in Brazil.

(Bermejo and Leon 1994; Morton 1987; NTPG 2013)


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