Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 48.djvu/833

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751
TROPICAL FRUIT TREES.

TROPICAL FRUIT TREES.
By BERTHA F. HERRICK.

ALTHOUGH the fruits of the tropics seldom ripen in temperate climates, the trees are often cultivated merely for the beauty of their foliage; so that it may prove of interest to become further acquainted with their general appearance and uses in their far-off native habitats.

The beautiful date palm is indigenous to Africa and Asia, though flourishing in all hot countries. There are said to be nearly a thousand species, the most vigorous specimens reaching the height of eighty feet and living for two hundred years. Each tree yields from one hundred and sixty to two hundred pounds of fruit in a single season, some of the clusters weighing nearly forty pounds. It is propagated by suckers from the root, whence its name of "Phoenix," and bears its first crop when about eight years of age.

No less than three hundred and sixty uses are claimed for this invaluable tree. The trunk furnishes timber for furniture and house-building as well as fuel, cooking utensils, and bows and arrows; the roots are utilized for fencing and roofing, and the fiber is woven into mats, fishnets, ropes, baskets, and articles of clothing. Among the natives of the Orient the nutritious fruit is the principal food for nearly the entire year, and, pounded into solid cakes, is carried by Arabs journeying over the scorching desert, the stones being used as fodder for the camels. Roasted and ground, the kernels make a fair substitute for coffee, and are also valued on account of their oil.

These trees are sometimes known as the "palms of victory," as the large, frondlike leaves are supposed to be identical with those that were strewn before the Saviour on his entry into Jerusalem, and that were borne with songs of rejoicing before ancient conquerors returning from their triumphs on the battlefield; while on Palm Sunday and at the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles they are highly prized as church decorations. In some varieties the flower-spathes yield a large quantity of sweet sap, which upon evaporation becomes "date sugar," this being fermented into an intoxicant called "arrack." The terminal bud or "cabbage" is considered a great delicacy, and is boiled and eaten like a vegetable.

Another well-known fruit tree of the tropics is the graceful Musa, or banana, a relative of the plantain. The rapidly growing suckers are productive at any season of the year, in a period of from nine to eighteen months, according to the altitude, the tree dying after ripening several bunches, some of which weigh nearly