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palm, common name for members of the Palmae, a large family of chiefly tropical trees, shrubs, and vines. Most species are treelike, characterized by a crown of compound leaves, called fronds, terminating a tall, woody, unbranched stem. The fruits, covered with a tough fleshy, fibrous, or leathery outer layer, usually contain a large amount of endosperm in the seed (stored food).

Although the palms are of limited use in the United States and other temperate areas, their economic importance in the tropical regions can exceed that of the grasses. Members of the family often furnish food, shelter, clothing, and other necessities of life for entire populations; an ancient Hindu song about the Palmyra palm (Borassus flabelliformis) of India enumerates 801 uses for the plant. Among the most important palms providing food and other products are the coconut, date, and sago. Palm sugar (jaggery) is obtained from the sap of several palms, e.g., species of Phoenix, Cocos, Arenga (in India), and Raphia (in Africa). Palm toddy, or wine, is made especially in Africa and Southeast Asia. Cabbage palm is a name applied to several species whose young heads of tender leaves are cooked as vegetables; these include the coconut palm, a royal palm (Roystonea oleracea), and the cabbage palmetto (Sabal palmetto). The fruit of the betel palm provides the world's most-used masticatory. Carnauba wax is obtained from a Brazilian species. Among the important palm fibers are raffia and rattan. Daemonorops draco yields dragon's blood, a resin. Another palm-fruit product, tagua, is used as a substitute for ivory.

Species native to the United States include the tall royal palm of Florida and Cuba (usually Roystonea regia in Florida) and the California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) of the Southwest and Mexico, much planted as an avenue ornamental. The palmetto palm is the characteristic underbrush plant of the SE United States.

The tallest palm is the Quindio wax palm (Ceroxylon quindiuense), which can reach 200 ft (61 m) in height and is found on cool Andean mountainsides in Colombia and N Peru at elevations of 6,500–10,000 ft (2,000–3,000 m). The largest known plant seed, enclosed in a fruit weighing up to 40 lb (18 kg), is borne by Lodoicea maldivica, a palm of the Seychelles, variously called the Seychelles nut palm, the coco-de-mer, or the double coconut. The talipot palm, Corypha umbraculifera, has leaf blades that may be up to 16 ft (4.9 m) across and the largest compound inflorescence, or flowerhead, in the plant kingdom.

Palm oil is the fat pressed from the fibrous flesh of the fruit of many palms, principally the coconut palm, the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), the peach palm (Bactris gasipaes), the babassu palm (Orbignya species, especially O. phalerata), and other South American species. Commercial palm oils are used for soaps and candles, lubricants, margarine, fuel, feed (chiefly the caked residue remaining after the oil has been expressed), and many other purposes. The total output of palm oil equals that of all other nondrying oils combined. In Indonesia and Malaysia, the main producers of palm oil, the rapid expansion of palm oil plantations has become one of the main causes of deforestation.

The palm family is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Liliopsida, order Arecales.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2022, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


In Jesus' day many Mediterranean and Middle Eastern peoples used the palm branch or palm tree as a symbol. The early Christians adopted these symbols from the cultures that surrounded them and reinterpreted them. In early Christian art the palm branch often represents martyrdom. It may also stand for heaven, peace, and victory. During the Lent and Easter seasons, however, the palm branch calls to mind Palm Sunday and all the events that the day commemorates.

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday falls on the Sunday before Easter, which is the sixth and last Sunday of Lent. It constitutes the first day of Holy Week, a week of observances commemorating the last events in Jesus' life. Palm Sunday celebrates Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem. According to the Bible crowds gathered to welcome him, hailing him as a prophet, that is, someone who understands and speaks for God. As he rode by, mounted on a donkey, they greeted him with cries of "Hosanna," an exclamation praising God, which means "Save, we pray." Many reverenced him by taking off their own cloaks and throwing them in his path or by cutting green branches for him to ride on (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19). In the account of this event given in the Gospel according to John, people waved palm branches as Jesus rode by (John 12:12-15).

The Ancient Hebrews

The ancient Hebrews considered the palm a beautiful and noble tree, and associated it with joy, fertility, and God's blessing. In ancient times the Jews adopted the custom of carrying palm fronds, woven together with other branches, during the Feast of the Tabernacles. They also built and lived in huts made of palm leaves for the duration of this week-long celebration. During this joyous festival, also called Sukkot, they gave thanks to God for the harvest and rejoiced in their deliverance from exile and slavery.

Peoples of the Ancient Mediterranean and Middle East

The peoples of the ancient Middle East, including the Babylonians, Egyptians, Jews, and Assyrians, found many uses for the palm tree. The palm tree not only provided cool shade in the hot Middle Eastern climate, but also furnished food in the form of dates. Over the centuries the peoples of the Middle East discovered how to construct walls and fences with palm branches, weave palm fronds into roof thatching, mats and baskets, and spin the stringy material that grows at the crown of the tree into rope. They fermented palm sap to create an alcoholic beverage and pressed date kernels to obtain oil.

In ancient times the palm was considered beautiful and stately. Egyptian buildings often featured stylized columns modeled on the palm tree. Moreover, the builders of Egyptian, Assyrian, and Phoenician temples embellished their work with the image of the palm tree. According to the Bible, Jewish craftsmen adorned the temple built by King Solomon with carvings of cherubim, flowers, and palm trees (1 Kings 6:29).

The palm served as a spiritual symbol for a number of ancient peoples. The ancient Greeks sometimes used the palm tree as an emblem of the sun god, Apollo. The Greek word for palm, phoenix, tied it closely to the mythological bird believed to have eternal life. Some writers assert that various Middle Eastern peoples, including the Egyptians, Babylonians, and Assyrians, considered the palm sacred in some way. Because it was known for its beautiful palm trees, the Greeks and Romans named the land of Phoenicia (which lies mostly in modern Lebanon) after the Greek word for palm. Indeed the ancient Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon minted coins stamped with the image of the palm tree. Numerous ancient Jewish coins also feature palm trees.

The ancient Romans themselves used the palm branch as a symbol of victory. Roman soldiers paraded with palm branches as a way of announcing their military conquests. After the defeat of the Jewish uprising against Rome in 70 A.D., the Romans issued a coin picturing a weeping woman underneath a palm tree.


The early Christians also used the palm branch as a symbol. They borrowed the Roman interpretation of the palm branch as an emblem of victory but added their own twist to this interpretation. For the early Christians the palm branch represented a victory of the spirit rather than a military victory. As such the palm branch quickly became a symbol of martyrdom. It was also used to represent heaven, peace, and hope. In early Christian artwork the image of the palm tree sometimes stood for the Tree of Life and was used as an emblem of Christ (see also Cross; Tree of the Cross).

By the Middle Ages lengthy palm processions were an important feature of Palm Sunday celebrations. In western Europe medieval pilgrims often carried palm branches as symbols of their status as pilgrims, perhaps echoing this seasonal custom.

Further Reading

Becker, Udo. "Palm Tree." In his The Continuum Encyclopedia of Symbols. New York: Continuum, 1994. Heath, Sidney. The Romance of Symbolism. 1909. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1976. Knapp, Justina. Christian Symbols and How to Use Them. 1935. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1974. Lehner, Ernst, and Johanna Lehner. Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees. 1960. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1990. Murphy, F. X. "Palm." In New Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 10. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967. "Palm." In Richard Cavendish, ed. Man, Myth and Magic. Volume 14. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1997. "Palm." In Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III, eds. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998. Webber, F. R. Church Symbolism. 1938. Second edition, revised. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1992.
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002


The flexor or volar surface of the hand.
Any member of the monocotyledonous family Arecaceae; most are trees with a slender, unbranched trunk and a terminal crown of large leaves that are folded between the veins.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


appeared on martyrs’ graves. [Christian Symbolism: Appleton, 73]


sign of triumph. [N. T.: Revelation 7:9]
See: Victory
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. the inner part of the hand from the wrist to the base of the fingers
2. a corresponding part in animals, esp apes and monkeys
3. a linear measure based on the breadth or length of a hand, equal to three to four inches or seven to ten inches respectively
4. a hard leather shield worn by sailmakers to protect the palm of the hand
a. the side of the blade of an oar that faces away from the direction of a boat's movement during a stroke
b. the face of the fluke of an anchor
6. a flattened or expanded part of the antlers of certain deer


any treelike plant of the tropical and subtropical monocotyledonous family Arecaceae (formerly Palmae or Palmaceae), usually having a straight unbranched trunk crowned with large pinnate or palmate leaves
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


(Palm, Inc., Sunnyvale, CA, A manufacturer of smartphones that popularized the handheld personal digital assistant (PDA) market. In 2010, Palm was acquired by HP.

Palm was founded in 1992 by Jeff Hawkins. Its first PDA, the Zoomer, was unsuccessfully marketed by Tandy. However, after Palm was acquired by U.S. Robotics in 1995, its products took off. In 1996, the PalmPilot 1000 and 5000 sold more than 350,000 units by year end. Although the "Pilot" name was later dropped, many referred to all Palm PDAs and even non-Palm PDAs as PalmPilots.

The Palm devices popularized the pen interface and handwriting recognition (first called "Graffiti") that was also licensed by Apple for its own organizer (see Newton).

In 1998, the Palm creators left U.S. Robotics, which by then had merged into 3Com, and founded Handspring. Handspring licensed the Palm OS and introduced the Visor, the first Palm PDA clone.

In 2000, Palm was spun off as a separate company, and in 2002 was divided into independent businesses: palmOne for hardware and PalmSource for software. Later renamed Palm, Inc., palmOne produced PDAs and smartphones. In 2003, Palm acquired the Treo brand from Handspring, which was designed to combine PDA and cellphone, and the Palm product line eventually evolved into smartphones only, including the Pre, Treo and Centro models.

PalmSource was set up to license the Palm OS platform and HotSync technology that synchronizes data between handhelds and PCs. Running on a variety of CPUs from Motorola, Intel, TI and ARM, the Palm OS has been used in more than 40 million handhelds and smartphones worldwide. In 2005, PalmSource became a subsidiary of Japan-based ACCESS CO., LTD., changing its name to ACCESS a year later and licensing the source code back to Palm, Inc. See webOS, PDA and Palm Pre.

The PalmPilot
The PalmPilot popularized the personal digital assistant (PDA), which became ubiquitous but eventually wound up as an application in a smartphone. The rectangle at the bottom is for hand printing. (Image courtesy of palmOne, Inc.)
Copyright © 1981-2019 by The Computer Language Company Inc. All Rights reserved. THIS DEFINITION IS FOR PERSONAL USE ONLY. All other reproduction is strictly prohibited without permission from the publisher.
References in periodicals archive ?
He said the effect of the initiative would be to meet local demands for oil palm, palm kernel oil, hydrogenated fat and to stamp out the importation of the items, create employment and wealth in the state.
While makers of palm sugar tout its health benefits, it is not exactly a superfood; however, it does have some health benefits.
In January 2019, as part of Ceca, India reduced import duties on palm oil, cutting duties on crude palm oil from Asean countries, including Malaysia, to 40 per cent from 44 per cent, and duty on Malaysian refined palm oil to 45 per cent from 54 per cent.
'Some visitors buy palm sugar as a food ingredient and foreigners buy it as a souvenir because we pack it beautifully in palm leaves.
The DA has also appealed to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to allow the country to enforce a cap on palm oil imports if a ban could not be enforced.
To date, there are only 89,376.06 hectares devoted to palm oil plantation throughout the country and the largest plantation areas are located in South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani plus General Santos City or SOCCSKSARGEN, with 29, 096.69 hectares; Caraga region, with 25, 827.93 hectares; and Occidental Mindoro, Oriental Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, and Palawan or MIMAROPA, with 8, 546.24 hectares.
The oil is high in saturated fats, but low in trans fats.Healthconcerns over trans fats' links to high levels of cholesterol have led to increased demand for palm oil, especially after the American Government's FDA moved to ban trans fats in food.
These three things show the importance of the role of palm oil in achieving SDGs, the fulfillment of world food, and supporting the improvement of the welfare of smallholder palm oil farmers.
Based on the road map, the government intends to utilize 353,000 hectares of land in the countryside for oil palm.
Khairul Nazran Abdul Rahman highlighted that Malaysian palm olein is a perfect frying oil; it has an excellent frying performance and very nutritious with balanced fatty acids and high content of vitamin E especially tocotrienols.
They say consumers can help by choosing sustainably-grown palm oil.