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any one of several plant species of the genus Metroxylon of the family Palmae. The palms have an underground branching rhizome and numerous trunks that measure 8–12 m tall and form extensive thickets. The pinnate leaves are 4–6 m long. The large inflorescences are usually apical and consist of unisexual and bisexual flowers. The fruits are rounded and have a covering of numerous scales. Sago palms flower in their 15th to 20th year and die after bearing fruit, forming numerous suckers at the base of the trunk.
There are about 15 species, distributed on moist lowlands and flooded river plains from Thailand to New Guinea. Of the greatest economic significance are M. laeve (or M. sagu) and M. rumphii. The former is found mainly on islands of the Malay Archipelago and in New Guinea. M. rumphii, which has thorns on the petiole and main axis of the leaf, grows mainly on the Moluccas.
Island inhabitants have cultivated sago palms for a long time to obtain starch; they also use wild species for this purpose. The trees are cut down before formation of the inflorescence. The pith of the trunk is removed and sago is prepared from it. A single trunk yields 110–160 kg of starch. The trunks and petioles are used as building material, and the leaves are used in the manufacture of woven products. Starch is also obtained from some other palms, including those of the species Mauritia and Arenga. Sometimes Cycadopsida are incorrectly called sago palms.
S. S. MORSHCHIKHINA