Oenocarpus Mart.
  • Hist. Nat. Palm. 2: 21 (1823) 

Notes: Distribution: C. & S. Trop. America to Trinidad

General Description

Moderate to massive, solitary or clustered, unarmed (except for sharp fibres of leaf sheaths), pleonanthic, monoecious palms. Stem erect, densely covered in fibrous leaf sheaths, when mature becoming bare except rarely (Oenocarpus circumtextus) fibrous network persistent, leaf scars smooth, flush with stem basally, swollen and prominent distally, a small mass of slender roots sometimes present basally. Leaves pinnate or entire-bifid, spirally arranged or distichous, suberect when young, becoming spreading; sheath tightly clasping but not forming a distinct crownshaft, splitting at least partially opposite the petiole, thick, leathery, lightly furrowed adaxially, glabrous or scaly abaxially, disintegrating marginally into masses of hair-like black or brown fibres and sometimes also fewer stout, sharp, knitting-needle-like fibres; petiole short, rarely elongate, channelled adaxially, rounded abaxially; leaflets regularly arranged in one plane or irregularly clustered, broadly lanceolate, acute to tapering, single-fold, blade adaxially glabrous, sparsely to densely abaxially glabrous or covered with persistent, shining, pale, straw-coloured or brownish, membranous, orbicular to transversely elliptical or sickle-shaped or needle-like medifixed scales, or with scattered, whitish, waxy, sickle-shaped hairs, midrib largest but other intermediate veins also large, transverse veinlets not evident. Inflorescences interfoliar in bud, becoming infrafoliar, hippuriform (shaped like a horse’s tail), protandrous, branched to 1 order laterally and abaxially, adaxial branches absent; peduncle short to elongate, flattened, tomentose; prophyll short, wide, adaxially flattened, 2-keeled, splitting abaxially, margins broadly toothed; peduncular bract much longer than the prophyll, terete, beaked, scaly; rachis longer than the peduncle but short, tapering, bearing spirally arranged, very small, slightly sunken, pointed to scalloped, thin bracts, adaxial ones abortive and evident only in young stages, lateral and abaxial bracts subtending rachillae; rachillae ± flexuous, pendulous, short to elongate, straight to slightly undulate, slender, tapering, bearing triads of flowers basally and pairs to single staminate flowers distally, rarely completely staminate, flowers borne in shallow depressions; rachilla bracts low, rounded with a short point, slightly sunken; floral bracteoles similar to rachilla bracts. Staminate flowers asymmetrical, pointed in bud; sepals 3, distinct, valvate, imbricate or briefly connate basally; petals 3, distinct, ovate, somewhat asymmetrical, valvate; stamens 6 or (7–8) 9–20, filaments terete, slender, straight or variously curved and bent, distinctly inflexed at the apex, anthers elongate, basally free and sagittate, rounded or blunt apically, dorsifixed, versatile, connective not extending above locules, latrorse; pistillode bifid or trifid. Pollen ellipsoidal, occasionally oblate triangular, with slight or obvious asymmetry; aperture a distal sulcus, occasionally, a trichotomosulcus; ectexine tectate, finely or coarsely perforate-rugulate, aperture margin finer; infratectum columellate; longest axis 38–56 µm [6/9]. Pistillate flowers shorter than the staminate; sepals 3, distinct, suborbicular, imbricate, hooded; petals 3, distinct, imbricate except for valvate apices when young, otherwise like the sepals; staminodes tooth-like or lacking; gynoecium ovoid, briefly stalked, unilocular, uniovulate, style short, cylindrical, bearing 3 fleshy stigmas, reflexed at anthesis, papillose adaxially. Fruit ellipsoidal to globose, dark purple when ripe, perianth persistent, stigmatic remains apical to slightly eccentric; epicarp smooth or minutely pebbled, waxy, mesocarp fleshy, oily, with internal fibres adnate to and covering the seed, endocarp apparently lacking. Seed ovoid-ellipsoidal to globose, hilum basal, raphe lateral, branches parallel, indistinct, endosperm homogeneous and striate, or ruminate, with central cavity; embryo basal, very large, extending through the endosperm into central cavity. Germination adjacent-ligular; eophyll bifid. Cytology: 2n = 36.

Diagnostic Description

Moderate to very large, solitary or clustered pinnate-leaved palms from Central and South America, with distinctive inflorescences in the form of a horse’s tail.


Root (Seubert 1998a, 1998b).


Rain forest species found on sandy soil of terra firme areas, along river margins.


Nine species ranging from Costa Rica and Panama to the Amazon and Orinoco Valleys in Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Guyana, Surinam, French Guiana, Brazil, Peru and Bolivia.


Important for pericarp oil; the mesocarp provides a creamy drink. The ‘cabbage’ is edible and good, and the trunk is used for construction and spears. For more details see Balick (1980, 1985).

Common Names

Bacaba, seje palm, mille pesos palm, for local names see Balick (1985).

Distribution Map

  • Native distribution
Found in
  • Southern America Brazil Brazil North
  • Brazil Northeast
  • Brazil West-Central
  • Caribbean Trinidad-Tobago
  • Central America Costa Rica
  • Panamá
  • Northern South America French Guiana
  • Guyana
  • Suriname
  • Venezuela
  • Western South America Bolivia
  • Colombia
  • Ecuador
  • Peru


  • 1 J. Dransfield & N. Uhl & C. Asmussen & W.J. Baker & M. Harley & C. Lewis, Genera Palmarum. The evolution and classification of palms. 2008
  • 2 Govaerts, R. & Dransfield, J. (2005). World Checklist of Palms: 1-223. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

 Information From

Palmweb - Palms of the World Online
Palmweb 2011. Palmweb: Palms of the World Online. Published on the internet http://www.palmweb.org. Accessed on 21/04/2013
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Global Biodiversity Information Facility
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eMonocot. (2010, 1st November). Retrieved Wednesday, 8th February, 2012, from http://e-monocot.org.
  • D Content licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
WCSP 2014. 'World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. Facilitated by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Published on the Internet; http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/ Retrieved 2011 onwards
  • E See http://kew.org/about-kew/website-information/legal-notices/index.htm You may use data on these Terms and Conditions and on further condition that: The data is not used for commercial purposes; You may copy and retain data solely for scholarly, educational or research purposes; You may not publish our data, except for small extracts provided for illustrative purposes and duly acknowledged; You acknowledge the source of the data by the words "With the permission of the Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew" in a position which is reasonably prominent in view of your use of the data; Any other use of data or any other content from this website may only be made with our prior written agreement.