Attalea Kunth
  • F.W.H.von Humboldt, A.J.A.Bonpland & C.S.Kunth, Nov. Gen. Sp. 1: 309 (1816) 

Notes: Distribution: Mexico to Trop. America

General Description

Small to massive, solitary, acaulescent or erect, unarmed, pleonanthic, monoecious palms. Stem subterranean to tall, usually becoming bare, obliquely marked with leaf scars. Leaves massive, pinnate, marcescent; sheath thick, finely or coarsely fibrous (in Attalea funifera producing piassava); petiole lacking or short to elongate, adaxially channelled, abaxially rounded, variously tomentose, rachis adaxially channelled near the base, distally angled, abaxially rounded or flattened, abaxially variously tomentose; leaflets inserted on the lateral faces or in shallow grooves; leaflets numerous, linear-lanceolate, single-fold, regularly arranged or in clusters of 2–5, irregularly lobed at the tips, caducous scales abundant along the leaflet margins exposed in the sword leaf, midrib prominent, other longitudinal veins rather indistinct, transverse veinlets abundant, conspicuous. Inflorescences solitary, interfoliar, ± erect or becoming pendulous, entirely staminate, entirely pistillate, or with flowers of both sexes, branched to 1 order or branches short and flowers appearing ± sessile on the main axis; peduncle short to long; prophyll obscured by leaf sheaths and not known, peduncular bract tubular, entirely enclosing the inflorescence in bud with a short to long solid beak, splitting abaxially, expanding and usually becoming cowl-like, thick and woody, abaxially deeply grooved, adaxially glabrous, abaxially densely tomentose, long persistent, subsequent peduncular bracts small, incomplete, triangular, ± coriaceous; rachis shorter or longer than the peduncle, bearing spirally or unilaterally arranged rachillae, each subtended by a short triangular bract; staminate rachillae with a short to long basal bare portion, above which bearing paired or solitary flowers, spirally arranged (rarely) or in 2 rows on one side, glabrous or floccose-tomentose, bisexual rachillae of two types, either similar to the staminate but bearing a few basal pistillate flowers or bearing 1 to several triads with a short slender apical portion bearing fertile or sterile staminate flowers, in the putative pistillate rachillae lacking all trace of staminate flowers at maturity. Staminate flowers asymmetrical; sepals 3, distinct, triangular, very small, sometimes slightly imbricate basally; petals 3, distinct, much longer than the sepals, ovate-triangular, acute, valvate, or terete and scarcely valvate, or terete basally and distally expanded into a triangular ± valvate limb; stamens 3–75, usually much shorter, rarely much longer than the petals, filaments slender, short to long, anthers ± straight to twisted and coiled, dorsifixed or rarely medifixed, sometimes sagittate basally, introrse or latrose; pistillode minute or absent. Pollen ellipsoidal, usually with either slight or obvious asymmetry, occasionally pyriform, trichotomosulcate pollen also present; aperture a distal sulcus or trichotomosulcus; ectexine tectate, finely to coarsely perforate, finely to coarsely perforate and micro-channelled, or perforate-rugulate or, unusually, tectate gemmate, aperture margin slightly finer; infratectum columellate; longest axis 32–85 µm [17/71]. Pistillate flowers very much larger than the staminate, generally ovoid; sepals 3, distinct, ± triangular, broadly imbricate, leathery; petals 3, distinct, rounded or ± triangular with triangular tips, glabrous or tomentose; staminodal ring large, coriaceous, tomentose; gynoecium of 3–several connate carpels, ovoid or obpyriform, style tapering, stigmatic lobes equal in number to the carpels, linear, reflexed at anthesis, ovules 1 per carpel, basal, form unknown. Fruit ± ovoid, sometimes asymmetrical, 1–several seeded, with a short to moderate beak and apical stigmatic remains, perianth and staminodal ring persistent and enlarging; epicarp minutely grooved, bearing scales, mesocarp usually fleshy and fibrous, endocarp very thick, stony, smooth without or closely grooved, often with included fibres, the pores subbasal, deeply impressed, ?always. Seed ellipsoidal or laterally somewhat flattened, basally attached with fine anastomosing raphe bundles, endosperm homogeneous, solid (?always); embryo basal. Germination remote-tubular; eophyll entire, lanceolate. Cytology: 2n = 32.

Diagnostic Description

Solitary, small to massive pinnate-leaved palms native to Central to South America and the Caribbean, with fibrous leaf sheaths, often huge leaves, and with inflorescences that are either staminate or pistillate or carry flowers of both sexes, all on the same plant; fruit is generally large with very thick endocarp, 1–3 or more seeded.


Leaf (Tomlinson 1961, Glassman 1999), root (Seubert 1998a, 1998b), gynoecium (Uhl and Moore 1971).


Occurring in a wide range of habitats from tropical rain forest to dry 'campo rupestre' and 'cerrado'.


About 69 species occurring from Mexico southwards to Bolivia and Peru.


These are palms with a multiplicity of uses, the most important being as a source of oil. For medicinal uses, see Plotkin and Balick (1984).

Common Names

For common names see Glassman (1999).

Distribution Map

  • Native distribution
Found in
  • Northern America Mexico Mexico Gulf
  • Mexico Southeast
  • Mexico Southwest
  • Southern America Brazil Brazil North
  • Brazil Northeast
  • Brazil South
  • Brazil Southeast
  • Brazil West-Central
  • Caribbean Haiti
  • Trinidad-Tobago
  • Central America Belize
  • Costa Rica
  • El Salvador
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Nicaragua
  • Panamá
  • Northern South America French Guiana
  • Guyana
  • Suriname
  • Venezuela
  • Southern South America Paraguay
  • Western South America Bolivia
  • Colombia
  • Ecuador
  • Peru

Included Species


  • 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.
  • 3 Govaerts, R. (1995). World Checklist of Seed Plants 1(1, 2): 1-483, 1-529. MIM, Deurne.

 Information From

Palmweb - Palms of the World Online
Palmweb 2011. Palmweb: Palms of the World Online. Published on the internet Accessed on 21/04/2013
  • A Content licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
  • B
Global Biodiversity Information Facility
  • C All Rights Reserved
eMonocot. (2010, 1st November). Retrieved Wednesday, 8th February, 2012, from
  • 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; Retrieved 2011 onwards
  • E See 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.