The extraordinary palm: diverse, prolific, essential, symbolic and often sacred, exotic – and at times erotic – exploited and controversial. The signature plant of the tropics and subtropics, these record-breaking botanicals produce the world’s biggest and heaviest seed, the longest leaf and the longest stem. Over thousands of years, palms sustained rainforest communities and were bound up with the development of ancient civilizations. They gained mystical and religious meanings and became a plant of abstractions and fantasies, a symbol of being at leisure, away from civilization and closer to nature – and at times of danger and devastation. In the nineteenth century capitalism used palm products to lubricate industry and cleanse empires. Iconic palm houses put on show this exceptional vegetative performer. Far from its natural homelands, it nowadays clothes and glamorizes an astonishing diversity of landscapes.
Today oils from palms are consumed daily by millions of people worldwide. The plant is embedded in modern consumer societies, but mired in environmental controversy over the destruction of rainforests.
In Palm Fred Gray portrays the cultural and historical significance of this iconic and controversial plant over thousands of years. Superbly illustrated, this lively and engaging book is the first of its kind.