base of the frond is air-filled to help it stay upright. This habit of growing
from underground stems results in almost pure stands of Nipah Palm.
Mangrove Palm, Attap/Nipah (Malay)
Nipah Palm is the among the few palms that grow well in mangroves.
It grows in soft mud, usually where the water is calmer, but where
there is regular inflow of freshwater and nutritious silt. They can
be found inland, as far as the tide can deposit the Palm's floating
seeds. It can tolerate infrequent inundation, so long as the soil
does not dry out for too long.
It is the mangrove plant with the oldest known fossil, with pollen
dated 70 million years old.
Compared to the Coconut Palm, the Nipah Palm appears to lack a trunk,
with its leaves growing straight out of the ground. In fact, its trunk
is horizontal and lies underground. The trunk branches and each branch
ends with a bunch of fronds.
and wetland wildlife at
Sungei Buloh Nature Park
features: Fronds emerge from the ground
and the palm appears trunkless. Grows 4-9m tall.
Leaves: Large up to 9m long.
Flowers: A globular inflorescence
of female flowers at the tip with catkin-like red or yellow
male flowers on the lower branches.
Fruits: Woody seeds, several
compressed into a ball.
Status in Singapore: Endangered.
World distribution: Common
on coasts and rivers flowing into the Indian and Pacific
Oceans, from Bangladesh to the Pacific Islands. Introduced
to other parts of the World.
inflorescence as above
Classification: Family Arecaceae. World 1 mangrove
showing attap chee
fruits form into a large ball about the size and shape of a soccer-ball,
rising from the mud on a stick. When it ripens, the ball breaks away
and breaks up into individual fruits. These float away and may even
germinate as they float.
Uses as food: Before the inflorescence
blooms, it is tapped to collect a sweet sap. Young Nipah Palm shoots
can be eaten. The petals of the flower can be brewed to make an aromatic
The immature fruits are white translucent and hard jelly-like. Called
attap chee, they are a common ingredient in local desserts.
the Indonesian islands of Roti and Savu, the sap tapped from the palm
is fed to pigs instead, allowing the pigs to fatten during the dry
season when other fodder is scarce. The pigs are also fed the leftovers
after sugar preparation. In this way, the Nipah Palm results in protein
for the community.
Other uses: Dried fronds are used
as thatching and called attap in Malay and nipa in the
Philippines. They are also woven into mats, baskets and other household
items. Young leaves are used to roll cigarettes.
Role in the habitat: Its horizontal
creeping stem stabilises river banks preventing soil erosion. New
fronds emerge quickly after damage and so quickly protect the land
after storms and also continuously produce useful products for the
on Tap: Only plants 5 years and older are tapped. The flowering
stalk is cut and inserted into a pot or plastic bag, and the end sliced
every day to stimulate new flow and prevent bacterial growth. The
base of the stalk is pounded with a mallet to keep the flow going.
About half to one litre of sap can be collected per day. A flower
stalk can be tapped in this way for 3 months.
The liquid can be drunk as is; boiled to produce a brown sugar (gula
melaka); fermented to produce a strong liquor (toddy);
or fermented further for several months to produce a cooking vinegar.
These items were important trade goods in Southeast Asia in the past.
Status and threats: Although common
elsewhere in their range, they are considered endangered in Singapore.
Only those in Sungei Buloh Nature Park and Pulau Tekong are protected.
million years ago
(Eocene period), the Nipah Palm
grew even in Europe, where
London and Paris now stand.
It also grew in Brazil, Florida and Senegal. It is now no longer
found outside the Indo-Pacific region.
- Wendy Hutton,
"Tropical Fruits of Malaysia and Singapore", Periplus,
1996 (p. 35, description, photos).
- Hugh T W Tan,
"A Guide to the Threatened Plants of Singapore", Singapore
Science Centre, 1995 (p. 92-93: description, habitat, distribution,
- Michael Mastaller,
"Mangroves: The Forgotten Forest Between Land and Sea",
Tropical Press, 1997 (p. 14: ancient distribution; p. 94: tapping method
and other uses).