Saturday, May 2, 2009

Pandanus fascicularis: A tropical shrub of many uses

Have you seen this plant?

It is common along the coastal areas of India, and also in SE Asia. The botanical name is Pandanus fascicularis (syn. P. odoratissimus, nom. illeg). In English it is called screw pine or umbrella tree. Local names in India include Kewra, Kaitha, Ketaki, Kevadaa, Tale hoovu, Bonnong, Kia, Kaethakee, and Thazhai.

We have Pandanus fascicularis in abundance in Olavipe, my village in Kerala, India. In fact, all the photographs on this page are taken at Olavipe. The shrub grows wild, usually along the canal banks, by the lake shore and on the edges of the rice fields. It is an invasive shrub which spreads quite extensively unless controlled.

The blade like leaves are about a meter or longer and have spikes along the midriff and the edges. They used to have economic significance our area. Large mats which were mainly used for drying paddy were made from Pandanus leaves by a particular caste. They were sold at the church feasts just before the harvest. Now plastic sheets have replaced them.

But elsewhere, like the South Eastern countries, the leaves have an important part in the local cuisine. They are eaten raw, or cooked and also used as flavoring agent.

Other uses of the leaves include making of bags and decorative items. It is also said that good quality paper can be made from screw pine leaves.

An excellent perfume is made from the spadices of male screw pine flowers. These blossoms are beautiful. When they open the wet musk smell lingers in the area. The Ganjam District of Orissa is one of the places where Pandanus is cultivated commercially. There are about 130 distillation units producing aromatic oil in the area.

The entire plant is considered to have great medicinal value. The range of health problems treated with different parts of the shrub is amazing. Here are examples from a long list: leprosy and other skin diseases, antiseptic, brain problems, diabetes, ulcers and wounds, cardiac conditions.

A major benefit of planting Pandanus is that it offers protection against sea erosion. This aspect is often overlooked.

Pandanus fascicularis grows to a height 2 to 3 meters. The common method of propagation is by planting the offshoots. Seeds can also be germinated.

Pandanus fruit has great resemblance to pineapple. But I don’t think many people eat it.


Click on photos to enlarge. Copyright reserved. Photo credits: Top: Karthiki. Second: TP. The rest taken by me.

Related posts:

A pineapple story, with photos

Medicinal Plants: Noni (Morinda citrifolia) planting for profit?


Happy Kitten said...

the "Kaitha" was also used as an Hedge.. and still in so many places.. the thorns keeps intruders away I guess..

Abraham Tharakan said...

Happy Kitten, thank you for pointing out the 'hedge' angle.