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Botany Photo of the Day
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Pandanus tectorius

Pandanus tectorius

Taisha, BPotD Work-Learn student, is again the author of today's entry:

This image of Pandanus tectorius, or the beach pandan, was provided by andreas lambrianides@Flickr. Thanks Andreas, for yet another contribution via the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool. This species was previously featured on Botany Photo of the Day in 2010, in an entry written by UBCBG staff member Eric La Fountaine.

Pandanus tectorius (PDF) is a common tree of tropical shores and coastal swamp thickets of Australia, the tropical Pacific islands east of Australia and the Hawai'ian Islands (GRIN notes it is uncertain whether it is native to Hawai'i). As Eric described in the 2010 entry, beach pandan is a dioecious shrub or small tree ranging from 4-14 metres in height at maturity, often with prop roots. The slender leaves that spiral around the trunk eventually fall off, leaving behind the characteristic scarring on the bark. Infructescences of Pandanus tectorius are an aggregate of tightly bunched drupes or phalanges, as displayed in today's photograph.

In Eric's post, he briefly notes the many uses of Pandanus tectorius including food, medicine, crafts and textiles. Varieties, Eric notes, are selected for specific cultural needs. What I found particularly interesting is the weaving of leaves in the Pacific Islands for the construction of canoe sails. This involved a labour-intensive process of weaving thin strips of pandan leaves together to create multiple plaited mats of different shapes and sizes, which were then sewn together. After being united, the edges were folded and then sewn again into an encasing sleeve made from the internal bark of Hibiscus tiliaceus. Numerous loop fasteners would then be tied along the edge made from either Cocos nucifera or Hibiscus tiliaceus.

When looking into these techniques, I came across this 2009 article: Sailing through history: conserving and researching a rare Tahitian canoe sail (PDF), by Hiquily et al.. The authors assessed, conserved, and documented a now-unique Tahitian canoe sail found in the collections of The British Museum (from the summary: "The British Museum has a unique canoe sail in its collection, which is likely to be the only Tahitian canoe sail ('ie) to have survived from the early era of sailing canoes"). The Tahitians stopped making sailing canoes in 1840 when the French colonial government banned inter-island travel, however there has been some recent interest in rediscovering and reconstructing early voyaging canoe technologies.

5 Comments

Sue Burrus commented:

This post brought back memories of being asked to illustrate vitamin A rich native foods in the Marshall Islands. The people from the Ministry of Health said they needed pictures of banana, pandana, pumpkin, and papaya. They had to take me on a walk to show me these amazing plants! Of the 4 mentioned, only the papaya looked familiar to this midwestern native. (The bananas were small and reddish and the pumpkin looked like long necked squash.) The pandana looked like nothing I had ever seen. The photo above doesn't give a scale... the infructescence is huge... as I remember they were 2 feet long and one of the drupes or phalanges, when broken off with a hammer, would only partially fit in a person's hand. The Marshallese people said that they would pound the drupes flat and let them dry in the sun to make a sort of fruit leather.

Pat commented:

I assume from the specific name that this plant was also used to make rooves or roofing.

Eric La Fountaine commented:

Parkinson's description of the plant is fairly brief but he does mentions the use of the leaves for thatching.

Parkinson's Journal - Catalogue of plants

Timothy Gallaher commented:

The plant pictured appears to be Pandanus cookii. It is closely related to P. tectorius and can be found all the way to the coast although it more typically inhabits ephemeral water sources and small streams in eastern Queensland.

Daniel Mosquin commented:

Thanks, Timothy -- we'll ask Andreas for his reference on the ID (and perhaps a better location).

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