PACSOA - 3 Books on Rattans
Book Reviews
3 Books on Rattans

Rattans (Canes) in India - A Monographic Revision
by Shyamal K. Basu. 1992
Soft cover; 240mm x 160mm;
141pp; 52 B&W draw/illus.

The Rattans of Sabah
by J. Dransfield. 1984.
Soft cover; 260mm x 185mm;
182 pp; 1 colour photo pp; 92 B&W draw/illus.

The Rattans of Sarawak
by John Dransfield. 1992.
Soft cover; 250mm x 160mm;
233 pp; 114 B&W draw.

One large group of palms not often cultivated in our country and therefore little known includes the genera collectively referred to as "Rattans". In spite of this it is very likely that at some time most people have made use of furniture constructed from cane, in other words the stems of these palms. Their close relatives grow in Queensland rainforests where their well-armed flagella can make progress very difficult. If you are interested in finding out a little more about these interesting palms there are three small books packed full of information describing the rattans of parts of Asia. Two of the books ("The Rattans of Sarawak" and "The Rattans of Sabah") are by well-known palm expert John Dransfield who also edited the other book in the series, "Rattans (Canes) in India, A Monographic Revision". In many Asian countries the rattans are of considerable economic importance as they are cultivated to provide cane and for this reason quite a lot of research has been done on them. I found quite a lot of interesting information in these books and some species appear to be well worth cultivating for ornamental purposes. Two examples are Calamus erinaceus, a coastal species found in abundance near mangroves along the coast of Sarawak and described as a "very beautiful species" and Daemonorops sparsiflora (Rattans of Sarawak pp 99 & 79) The latter species is found in richer soils in primary and disturbed forest to 1000m altitude. It has very neat leaflets and sparsely spiny sheaths and "...seedlings are exquisite and would make fine ornamentals". It is said to be a common Sarawak species and sounds to me a palm well worth giving a go.

Some rattans are stemless and either solitary or suckering, some being very small plants indeed such as Daemonorops acamptostachys which grows no higher than about 2m. On the other hand Calamus laevigatus var. mucronatus is a solitary very slender palm with a stem growing to over 60m (sixty metres) long but only 4mm diameter. A number of Korthalsia species have specially formed leaf sheaths (ocreas) to house ants, rather fierce ones which defend the plants against animals such as wild pigs. Korthalsia robusta and K hispida are called noisy rattans with the ants in the ocreas banging their abdomens against the dry ocreas when disturbed. All the ants in one ocrea do this more or less in unison then it is done by the ants in the next ocrea and so on. This makes a very strange rustling noise but if the intruder persists they swarm out and fiercely defend their home. Daemonorops formicaria "is an elegant ant rattan" and also houses ants but this time in galleries made of interlocking spines.

The three books are illustrated with line drawings designed to aid in identifying the many species of rattans and showing the different parts of the plants. The larger part of each book is devoted to detailed descriptions of the species to enable correct identification to be made but useful information regarding habitat, uses, and cultivation is also included. Other features include illustrated glossaries and keys. "Rattans of India" has about twenty pages of introduction dealing with such subjects as propagation and utilisation. These would be very useful books for anyone interested in discovering more about these unusual palms.

Reviewed by: Will Kraa

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