Draft I -The Natural History of African Oil Palm, Cacao & Pejibaye

This discussion topic submitted by Ken Spencer (wkspen@earthlink.net) at 10:10 am on 5/4/99. Additions were last made on Monday, October 8, 2001.

I often start out by telling my economic botany class that in our country, most people have no appreciation of the natural history of the plants we consume for our everyday sustenance. Ask a child, or most adults, where bananas come from, and the most likely response would be " the grocery store". That is the extent of most peopleís knowledge of the plants we consume, and take for granted, on a daily basis. Most might be surprised to learn that the majority of the plant foods we eat do not originate in North America. In the early 1900ís, the Russian botanist Nikolay Vavilov proposed the notion of eight centers of origin for domesticated plant species. This trip places us squarely in one of those centers ñ the Mexican / Central American center of domestication.

During our travels, in addition to Costa Ricaís two most important economic crops, bananas and coffee, we will witness the great diversity of tropical crops produced in this tiny country. A short list of these would include some familiar and possibly many unknowns such as: pina (pineapple), mango, papaya, cacao, guava, litchi, carambola (star fruit), chayote, Palma de Aceite, sour sop, yuca (cassava), avocado, cana (sugarcane), macadamia nut, cashew, pejibaye, limon, naranja (orange), black pepper, coconut, vanilla, and arroz (rice). Temperate and sub-tropical crops will include familiar American grocery store staples such as potatoes, beans, tomatoes, peppers, maize, cilantro, squashes and melons. Without much effort, we will likely encounter most of these during the course of our wanderings around the cities and countryside. My favorite destinations in Costa Rica include the many mercado centrals found in most larger towns. The Mercado Central in San Jose should be a required side trip for any class during its Costa Rica visit. With its cornucopia of tropical fruits and produce, the hustling, bustling central market is the perfect classroom for economic botany. I donít know if weíll visit it, but we will surely have an opportunity to see and sample most of the above mentioned products somewhere along the way. So, for the two weeks we are in country, try to forget the about foods to which you are so accustomed. Get ready for plenty of arroz con frijoles and whatever. Put aside any preconceived notions or prejudices you may have about those you are about to encounter. Donít pass on the opportunity to sample something new ñ you might just be surprised!

My discussion will center on three of the above mentioned products ñ cacao, pejibaye and African oil palm. We will transect enormous plantations of African oil palm in the vicinity of Palmar Sur as we travel to Drake Bay. Their size is quite impressive from the air. These expansive United Fruit Company plantings replaced sprawling banana plantations years ago and are an important export crop. On the Atlantic lowlands we will encounter remnants of once thriving cacoa plantations that have over the years been decimated by fungal pathogens. Along the way, we are likely to see pejibaye, an up and coming crop, that has tremendous export potential. In fact, Costa Rica is now the worldís number two exporter of hearts of palm. You will have opportunity to sample Pejibaye nuts from the street vendors in San Jose and taste fresh hearts of pejibaye in your dinner salad. Enjoy!

My discussion of each plant will include: 1) Uses, 2) Origin & Distribution, 3) Description, 4) Ecology 5) Cultivation, 6) Harvesting and 7) Economics.

Partial List Of References

West, J. A. 1992. A brief history and botany of cacao. In Chilies To Chocolate: Food the Americas Gave The World, ed. N. Foster and L. S. Coirdell, 105-21. Tucson and London: University of Arizona Press

Young, Allen M. 1994. The Chocolate Tree: A Natural History of Cacao, Smithsonian Institution Press

Simpson, B. B. & Ogorzaly M. C. 1995. Economic Botany: Plants In Our World, 2nd Editon, McGraw-Hill Publishers

Janzen, D. H. 1983. Agriculture. In Costa Rican Natural History, pp 66 ñ 117. University of Chicago Press














For Further Info on this Topic, Check out this WWW Site: http://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/.
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It is 6:25:20 AM on Sunday, September 24, 2017. Last Update: Monday, October 8, 2001