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Elaeis guineensis

SynonymsElaeis melanococca J. Gaertn.
Common namesdende, kelapa sawit, nahkhil al zite, oil palm, oilepalme, olie palm, Ölpalme, palma aceitera, palma de aceite, palmier à huile, youzonglu
Ecocrop code972

DESCRIPTION: An unbranched, evergreen palm, reaching a height of 18-30 m with a stout trunk, up to 22-75 cm in diameter, covered with persistent leaf bases. The tree has adventitious roots growing from the bottom one meter of the trunk, and a few deeply penetrating roots that anchor the tree, but most of the roots grow horizontally in the top one meter of the soil, and as far away as 20 m from the bole. The stem terminates in a crown of leaves at the very top, 70-100 leaves, up to 7.5 m long, are produced in spiral succession from the apical meristem. The inflorescences are compound spikes, one borne in the axil of each leaf. The palm is monoecious and male and female flowers do not appear on the plant at the same time. Cross-pollination therefore almost always occurs. After fertilization, the female inflorescence develops into the fruit bunch. Each bunch may contain about 200 fruits. A single bunch may weigh 18-25 kg, of which 60-65% is fruit. The fruits are fibrous drupes about 4 cm long and 2 cm broad, with a pointed apex and a leathery, fairly thin exocarp surrounding the fleshy mesocarp, a hard endocarp and a seed. USES: Palm oil has saturated palmitic acids, as well as oleic and linoleic acids. It can be used in the manufacture of soap and candles and in the tin plate industry. It is the most productive species for bio-diesel. It contains vitamins A and E. Palm kernel oil is very similar to coconut oil and is used in edible fats, in the preparation of ice cream and mayonnaise, and in the manufacture of soaps and detergents. By tapping the male inflorescence, a wine can be made and the central shoot or cabbage of the palm is edible. The press cake from palm kernel oil can be used for animal feed. KILLING T.: 0oC at during rest or at early growth. GROWING PERIOD: Perennial. FURTHER INF.: Elaeis belongs to the palm subfamily Cocoideae. African oil palm is indigenous to the humid tropics of West Africa. It occurs wild along the banks of rivers and streams in the transition zone between rain forest and open savanna, at latitudes between 3°N and 7°S. The cultivation is essentially limited to regions between 10°N and S. It can be found up to 1300 m in elevation near the equator. For commercial production altitudes above 500-700 m were considered unsuitable, but cold tolerance has extended this to 1500m. Growth rate is significantly affected below 20oC and there is no growth below 15oC. However, yields should not be significantly affected if the temperature drops below 20oC for a few hours at night only. With cold tolerance it can withstand temperatures of 12oC. It can tolerate temporary flooding, provided the water is not stagnant. Photosynthesis pathway C3II. Relative humidity should be higher than 75% in areas of commercial production and rainfall should be evenly distributed throughout the year. It requires adequate light and at least five hours of sunshine per day in all months of the year is desirable. Seedling growth stops at temperatures below 15oC. High winds can be harmful.
CROPPING SYSTEM: Oil palm can be a useful agroforestry species. On smallholdings oil palms are often intercropped with food crops such as maize, millet, cassava, cocoyams, groundnuts or bananas. This can be done for up to three years. On larger plantations, soil cover crops of legumes and grasses are often used. PROPAGATION: The plant is propagated from seed, that, however, germinate irregular and very slowly. To hasten the process, the moistened seeds can be mixed with charcoal and put in small boxes and then into polythene bags. These are laid in so called "germinators" for about 40 days at 38-40°C in low relative humidity. Then the seeds are allowed to absorb water and are held at 28-30°C for another 10-40 days. Seeds can also be germinated at the above temperature but without bags, then they should be watered every three days. A wet sack on the floor can help to keep the atmosphere damp. About 80% of the fresh seeds and 50-60% of stored seeds will germinate, but not at the same time and each week the germinated seeds should be removed. PRE-NURSERY: The germinated seeds are fragile and should therefore first be planted in prepared beds, trays, baskets or bags before being transferred to the field nursery. Soils for the pre-nursery should be well-drained, friable, fertile topsoil. The beds should be 20-23 cm high and not more than 120 cm wide. The trays 120 x 60 cm and 15-20 cm deep, while the baskets and polythene bags should be 23 cm deep and 10-15 cm in diameter. The sprouted seeds are planted carefully at a distance of 7.5 x 7.5 cm, their delicate roots pointing downwards and covered with 2.5 cm of soil. After 4-6 months, when the seedlings reach the 4-5 leaf stage, they are transferred to the field nursery FIELD-NURSERY: Here the seedlings are planted at a distance of 75-90 cm apart or in large polythene bags. They remain in the nursery 6-12 months before being transplanted to the field. The nursery area should be flat and near a water source. The soil should be as in the pre-nursery and organic manure should be incorporated before planting. FIELD: Seedlings should be between 10-18 months when they are transplanted to the field. It is best to move the seedlings with a substantial ball of earth (35-45 cm in diameter around their roots). When bare-root planting is necessary the roots should be dipped in a clay slurry as soon as they are lifted. Some leaf pruning may be necessary to reduce the seedlings height to about 1.2 m. The optimum planting density is about 123-140 palms per ha, which is the same as a planting distance of 8-9x9 m. New compact hybrids developed by ASD Costa Rica allow up to 170 palms per ha with corresponding yield increases due to the compact canopy; harvesting is also simplified due to their lower height. In areas with seasonal rainfall the transplanting should be done at the beginning of the rain, while in areas with a better rainfall distribution it can be done year round. LAND PREPARATION: The area around the planting holes should be cleared of all vegetation to a radius of 1 m. GROWING PERIOD: Perennial. Begins to bear in 3-4 years, is in full production in 8-10 years and is usually cut down at 25-35 years, when the palm gets to tall and unpractical to harvest. Specimens have been known to live 200 years. The inflorescence develops in the apical bud for two years. After pollination fruit takes 150-180 days to mature. The tree requires a growing period of at least 270 days per year, the optimum is more than 300 days and the tree can grow throughout the year. FERTILIZATION: One ton of fruit removes about 6 kg N, 1 kg P, 8 kg K, 0.8 kg Ca and 0.6 kg Mg from the field. Typical fertilizer recommendations in West Africa would be: 114 g of N, P2O5, K2O and Mg in 1:1:1:2 per seedling in the nursery, 15 kg N, 24 kg K2O, 4 kg Mg per hectare at transplantation, 15 kg N, 45 kg K2O, 7 kg Mg per hectare in the first year after transplantation, 30 kg N, 60 kg K2O, 10 kg Mg per hectare in the second year after transplantation, 30 kg N, 75 kg K2O, 17 kg Mg per hectare in all subsequent years. The fertilizer should be applied in a ring 7.5-15 cm from the seedlings and about 1.5 meter from the mature palm. IRRIGATION: Required in the early stages and later during dry periods. WEED CONTROL: An area around each palm and a passage between the palms should be kept free of vegetation. For mature palms the vegetation free area should be about 2.5 m in diameter. PEST AND DISEASES: With good care and careful selection of plants, disease control in the stand is not usually necessary. Where there is danger from rodents young plants should be protected by a wire collar. The principal diseases of oil palm are blast, freckle and anthracnose. Common pests are palm weevils, leaf miners, slug caterpillars, but also rats, porcupines, wild pigs, elephants and palm-nut vulture can damage the palms. HARVESTING: The fruit bunches are cut off or knocked down when the fruit is ripe. The correct time for harvesting is in most cultivars indicated by the change in colour from black to orange or by the fall of the first individual fruits. Usually only one bunch on the tree ripens at a time. The ripe bunches should be cut very carefully to avoid damage to the subtending leaf. YIELDS: It produces the two distinct oils, palm oil and palm kernel oil. Palm oil is obtained from the fleshy, orange mesocarp of the fruit, which contains 45-55 % oil, and palm kernel oil is obtained from the kernel or endosperm which contains about 50% oil. The best plantations yield about 30 t/ha of fruit per year. From that, about 7 tons of palm oil and 0.8 tons of kernel oil can be extracted. Oil palms can give a higher yield of oil per unit area than any other crop. In older plantations the yields are however often only about 3.5 tons oil per ha. per year. POST HARVEST TREATMENT: The fruit bunches are almost always damaged during harvest and must be taken to the factory as soon as possible and should be processed within 24 hours.
Smallholder Oil Palm Manual, FAO and ASD Costa Rica
ASD Costa Rica
ICRAF Agroforestry Database
Sims D (pers. comm.)
Landon J 1984 pp 281 284 290 300 [TEXT, DRA, DEP, PH, FER, SAL]
Sys C 1984 pp 70
Rehm S 1991 pp 82-85 [TEMP, LIG, RAIN, DEP, DRA, PH, FER, CUL]
Roecklein J 1987 pp 333 [USE]
Eswaran H 1986 pp 81
Kozlowski T 1977 pp 358
Williams C 1979 pp 167-184 [TEMP, TEXT, FER, DEP]
Kernick M 1961 pp 390
Purseglove J 1972 pp 479-510 [LIG, DRA, RAIN, TEMP, TEXT, PH]
Hoyos F J 1984 pp 62 [USE]
Pedersen H 1990 pp 15-16 [USE]
Piggott C 1990
Nair P 1980 pp 173-180 [RAIN, TEMP, TEXT, FER, DRA, USE]
Onwueme I 1991 pp 363-373 [LIG, RAIN, TEMP, FER, DRA, PH, CUL]
Martin F 1984 pp 62-72 [TEMP, RAIN, PHO, DRA, FER, DEP, TEXT, PH, SAL, LIG, USE]
Westphal E 1989 pp 118-123 [USE, DRA, RAIN, TEMP, TEXT, FER]