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Fruits of the earth: plants in the service of mankind

The palmyra palm

Opening showing a palmyra palm tree and a textual note explaining the inclusion of a piece of palmyra palm in the pages of the bookOpening showing a palmyra palm tree and a textual note explaining the inclusion of a piece of palmyra palm in the pages of the bookThe palmyra palm is one of a species of six fan palms which grow across Asia and Africa. It is useful not only for its wood, which is commonly used in the construction of fences, but also for its leaves, which are used in thatching, basket construction and other household items.

Through its edible components and the fruit it bears it is truly a tree of versatility, a sentiment outlined on the title page of this item:

Ask a man to cut down a coconut or palmyrah tree, and he will say ... ‘What! Destroy that which gives me food? From which I have thatch for my house to defend me from the sun and rain? Which gives me oil for my lamp, a ladle for my kitchen, and charcoal for my fire? From which I have sugar for my board, baskets for my fruit.’

A piece of palmyra palm leaf with inscriptions in Tamil, Sinhalese and EnglishA piece of Palmyra palm leaf with inscriptions in Tamil, Sinhalese and EnglishThis book was published in 1888 in what is now Sri Lanka and came to King’s from the historical library collection of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

It was published with a piece of Palmyra leaf included inside and this example of the plant is also shown here. The explanation for this unusual addendum is accounted for in the text of the opening. It is noted that the inscriptions on the leaf are in Tamil, Sinhalese and English. The Sinhalese inscription is, however, rather faded.

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