Page:A Lady's Cruise in a French Man-of-War.djvu/379

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PALMS AND PANDANUS.

round the stem, which is thus marked with a spiral pattern from the root upward. Like the cocoa-palm, it grows in the clean dry coral-sand, where there is apparently no moisture; yet when cut it is found to be full of oily sap. The wood is close and hard, and though rarely exceeding five or six inches in diameter, it often grows perfectly upright, for fifteen or twenty feet, and yields excellent posts for building; they are, however, hollow like a bamboo. The long drooping leaves are valuable for thatch, being from three to five feet in length, and about three inches wide. They are edged with sharp prickles, but, when torn into strips, are useful for plaiting mats and canoe-sails.

The women steep the leaves in sea-water, and then beat them with a mallet till all the green skin comes off, leaving a beautifully white silky fibre, which they dye red, yellow, and brown, and then plait into wonderfully fine sashes, about a foot wide. It has been suggested that this pure white fibre would prove a valuable material for paper-making, but I have not heard of its being tried. A stronger fibre is obtained by crushing the aerial roots, which this strange tree throws out in all directions, forming stays by which it protects itself against the violent gales,—a necessary precaution, where the main root grows only in the sand.

The flower of the pandanus is exceedingly fragrant; but though I have seen thousands of screw-pines, I have rarely had the luck to find one in blossom. Its fruit resembles a coarse pine-apple. When ripe it becomes bright scarlet, and the Samoans use it for making necklaces. It is divided into honeycomb sections. When the fruit is ripe these fall apart, each being a separate conical lump, of which the inner end is soft and saccharine, and can be chewed like sugar-cane.

When the capsules are thoroughly dried, they can be cracked, and yield a kernel, which is edible; and in the barren isles, near the equator, this fruit is considered a valuable product. It is dried and grated, and the sweet brown sawdust thus obtained is stored as the only substitute for flour; and cakes of it are baked, as occasion may require, to eke out a fish diet, which is not always forthcoming. It is said to be wholesome, nourishing food; but in