Moderate, solitary, unarmed, pleonanthic, monoecious palm, sometimes flowering while still without an emergent trunk. Stem erect, often curved or slanting, becoming bare and conspicuously ringed with leaf scars. Leaves numerous, pinnate, neatly abscising; sheath fibrous, forming a woven supportive network with a conspicuous, tongue-like extension opposite the petiole, eventually disintegrating and becoming open; petiole short to long, adaxially channelled, abaxially rounded, bearing caducous tomentum abaxially; rachis elongate, curved or straight, adaxially angled near the tip, abaxially rounded, with caducous tomentum abaxially; leaflets very numerous, single-fold, regularly arranged in one plane, usually rather stiff, linear, acuminate, usually bifid with slightly asymmetrical tips, adaxially glabrous, abaxially with abundant, dot-like scales and very small ramenta along the midrib, midrib prominent adaxially, transverse veinlets evident. Inflorescences solitary, interfoliar, axillary, branched to 1 order, protandrous; peduncle ± elliptic in cross-section, robust, elongate, bearing scattered scales; prophyll tubular, 2-keeled laterally, opening apically, becoming fibrous, tomentose, persistent, ± obscured by the leaf sheaths; peduncular bract inserted near the prophyll, very large, tubular, entirely enclosing the inflorescence until shortly before anthesis, splitting abaxially, becoming boat-shaped, beaked, thick, woody, adaxially smooth, abaxially with longitudinal, shallow grooves and caducous tomentum; rachis ±equalling the peduncle, bearing spirally arranged rachillae, each subtended by an inconspicuous triangular bract and with a swollen base; rachillae robust, ± pendulous at first, later spreading with a basal bare portion and none or a few basal triads and pairs or solitary staminate flowers distally; rachilla bracts and floral bracteoles inconspicuous. Staminate flowers ± asymmetrical, narrowly ovoid, moderate, sessile; sepals 3, distinct, rather unequal, imbricate, triangular, ± keeled; petals much longer than the sepals, thick, rather leathery, distinct, valvate, irregularly boat-shaped, acute; stamens 6, filaments rather short, distinct, awl-shaped, fleshy, ± erect, anthers deeply sagittate basally, shallowly so at the apex, elongate, medifixed, ± versatile, latrorse; pistillode with 3, slender, pointed lobes. Pollen ellipsoidal, frequently elongate and/or pyriform, usually with either slight or obvious asymmetry; aperture a distal sulcus; ectexine tectate, finely perforate, perforate and micro-channelled, or perforate-rugulate, aperture margin slightly finer; infratectum columellate; longest axis 62–70 µm [1/1]. Pistillate flowers very large, globose in bud, becoming very broadly ovoid at anthesis; sepals 3, distinct, imbricate, ± rounded; petals similar to and somewhat longer than the sepals, lacking valvate apices, very leathery; staminodal ring low, membranous, not lobed; gynoecium trilocular at the very base, triovulate, broadly ovoid, obscurely 3-angled, extremely fibrous distally, stigmas 3, very short, borne in a slight depression, ovule anatropous, very small, laterally attached. Fruit very large (except in unusual forms), ellipsoidal to broadly ovoid, indistinctly 3-angled, dull green, brown, brilliant-orange, yellow, to ivory-coloured when ripe, perianth enlarging in fruit, stigmatic remains apical; epicarp smooth, mesocarp very thick and fibrous, dry, endocarp thick and woody, ± spherical to narrow ovoid, indistinctly 3-angled, with 3 longitudinal ridges, and 3, large, slightly sunken, basal pores, each with an operculum. Seed almost always 1 only, very large, with a narrow layer of homogeneous endosperm, and a large central cavity partially filled with fluid; embryo basal, opposite one of the endocarp pores. Germination adjacent-ligular; eophyll entire, broadly lanceolate. Cytology: 2n = 32.
A single species widely cultivated throughout the tropics and warmer subtropics. Origin uncertain but said to be western Pacific (Harries 1978, Gruezo and Harries 1984, Buckley and Harries 1984) (but see below).
Belize, Benin, Bismarck Archipelago, Borneo, Caroline Is., Central American Pacific Is., Chile North, Costa Rica, Fiji, Gabon, Gilbert Is., Hawaii, India, Jawa, Leeward Is., Line Is., Madagascar, Malaya, Maldives, Maluku, Marcus I., Marianas, Marquesas, Marshall Is., Mauritius, Nauru, New Guinea, Nicaragua, Niue, Ogasawara-shoto, Philippines, Phoenix Is., Puerto Rico, Queensland, Réunion, Samoa, Seychelles, Society Is., Solomon Is., Sri Lanka, Thailand, Togo, Tokelau-Manihiki, Trinidad-Tobago, Tuamotu, Tubuai Is., Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Wallis-Futuna Is.