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OIL PALMS

Attalea butyracea (Mutis ex L. f.) J. G. W. Boer.

Orbignya speciosa Barb. Rodr.

[=Attalea speciosa Mart.]

Etymology - Its generic name is dedicated to the nineteenth-century French naturalist A. D. d’Orbigny. Its specific name is Latin, meaning magnificent, good looking and it refers to the graceful habit of this plant.

Area of origin - Brazil.

Botanical description - Imposing palm with an erect trunk, up to 20 m tall and 30-40 cm wide, apically bearing a thick crown of pinnate, erect and spreading leaves, consisting of linear-lanceolate segments. Its flowers, unisexual on monoecious plants, are clustered in slightly branched, hanging inflorescences up to 1.5 m long. Fruits are somewhat like small coconuts about 6 cm long, ovate-oblong in shape, pointed, yielded in huge amounts (up to 800-1,000 fruits per inflorescence).

Uses - Its seeds yield a kind of oil commercially known as babassu oil. In order to extract it, the seeds, picked from spontaneously grown palms, are ground and squeezed by means of hydraulic presses or otherwise treated by means of chemical solvents.

This oil, whose content per seed ranges between 60% and 70%, looks transparent, it smells like walnuts and turns liquid at 20-30°C, otherwise it is somewhat creamy.

As it is not greasy and possesses remarkable softening properties, babassu oil is widely employed, notably to prepare cosmetics (body and hair oils and creams, soaps, etc.); it is also employed for nutritious purposes to make margarine, as a lubricant and sometimes as a component of diesel-engine fuels.