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What is Hyphaene?

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  • Written By: Terrie Brockmann
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 08 September 2016
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People often refer to the palms that belong to the Hyphaene genus of the Arecaceae family as doum palms. The Hyphaene genus contains about 10 species of palms that are native to parts of Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and areas of India and Sri Lanka. The palms may have various domestic and medicinal benefits, depending on the species. Xeriscaping, or drought-tolerant landscaping, landscapers choose it for its ability to survive in poor or exhausted soils.

Some doum palms, such as H. thebaica and H. coriacea, provide food, drink, and livelihoods for local natives. People harvest almost all parts of these palms. Many craftspeople use the fibers and leaves to weave baskets, mats, and other items that they sell. By harvesting the leaves in a sustainable method, they do not kill the plants. Often, natives carve and sell the seeds, which resemble ivory.

Various cultures use parts of many doum palms as a foodstuff, but not all Hyphaene palms have edible fruit. In the species that have edible fruit, people usually cook it into cakes and such. Typically, natives eat the sprouted seeds of some species, similar to the way people eat bean sprouts. The fruit generally has a sweet and sour flavor, and children often eat it as a treat. In some regions, people brew it as a tea.

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Medicinally, many herbalists use the fruit of the H. thebaica palm to treat hypertension, diabetes, and other health problems. In early 2010, researchers at Egypt's Mansoura University studied the effects of extracts from the palm. They found that it lowered high blood pressure, lowered bad cholesterol, and raised the good cholesterol. More studies may reveal more benefits. Archeologists found seeds of the doum palm in tombs of pharaohs, which may indicate that the ancient Egyptians used them medicinally.

People commonly call H. coriacea the doum palm, although many people call all palms in the Hyphaene genus by that name. Growers commonly refer the H. thebaica palm as the gingerbread palm or the African or Egyptian doum palm. The east African H. compressa is known as the east African doum palm.

Hyphaene palms have fan-shaped leaves. Usually the leaves range from about 12 to 32 inches (30 to 80 cm) long and are gray-green or blue-green with scaly, black hairs. The flowers are small, bowl-shaped, and have three petals. They usually range in color from light green or white to yellow.

The doum palm trunks vary as to the species. Some are trunkless, some have creeping stems as trunks, and others are upright palms with branching trunks. The upright palms vary in height. H. coriacea may reach heights of about 15 feet (about 5 m), while the H. thebaica may grow to 20 or 30 feet (about 6 to 10 m) tall.

Landscapers and gardeners grow the creeping, stemless varieties as ground cover. They often grow the upright palms as specimen plants. Some of the species tolerate greenhouse environments. Growers propagate the palms by sowing the seeds, which may be difficult to germinate. Most landscapers buy nursery stock.

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