The Nipah Palm is the among the few
palms that grow well in mangroves. It grows in soft mud, usually
where the water is calmer, but where there is regular inflow of
freshwater and nutritious silt. They can be found inland, as far as
the tide can deposit the Palm's floating seeds. It can tolerate
infrequent inundation, so long as the soil does not dry out for too
It is the mangrove plant with the oldest known fossil, with pollen
dated 70 million years old. Compared to the Coconut Palm, the Nipah
Palm appears to lack a trunk, with its leaves growing straight out
of the ground. In fact, its trunk is horizontal and lies
underground. The trunk branches and each branch ends with a bunch of
The base of the frond is air-filled to help it stay upright. This
habit of growing from underground stems results in almost pure
stands of Nipah Palm.
The fruits form into a large ball about the size and shape of a
soccer-ball, rising from the mud on a stick. When it ripens, the
ball breaks away and breaks up into individual fruits. These float
away and may even germinate as they float.
Uses as food: Before the inflorescence blooms, it is tapped to
collect a sweet sap. Young Nipah Palm shoots can be eaten. The
petals of the flower can be brewed to make an aromatic tea.
The immature fruits are white translucent and hard jelly-like.
Called attap chee, they are a common ingredient in local desserts.
In the Indonesian islands of Roti and Savu, the sap tapped from the
palm is fed to pigs instead, allowing the pigs to fatten during the
dry season when other fodder is scarce. The pigs are also fed the
leftovers after sugar preparation. In this way, the Nipah Palm
results in protein for the community.
Other uses: Dried fronds are used as thatching and called attap in
Malay and nipa in the Philippines. They are also woven into mats,
baskets and other household items. Young leaves are used to roll