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Fraser's Hill (1,200m ) is an old hill station established in the early 1900's by the colonial English administrators as a retreat from the hot and humid lowlands. Situated 103 kms north of the capital of Kuala Lumpur, it is virtually in the geographical centre of the main range which runs like a backbone through the Malay Peninsular. There are over 30 palm species found on the 'hill' with the Pinangas consisting of one third of these.
The palm flora of the Malay Peninsular has developed its most unique forms in the mid-mountain regions at an altitude of between 700 and 1500 metres; an area of cool temperatures and reliable moderate to heavy rainfall.
With slightly less than one half of Malaya's 240 species of palms being restricted to this altitude, a few of them are endemic, being confined to small isolated areas where the palms have developed special adaptations to the peculiar soil and habitat conditions, whereas many palms of the lowlands being much more adaptable, are found throughout the whole area of southeast Asia and as far away as India and Australia. For example, Arenga pinnata occurs naturally from India to Malesia, Corypha elata through southern India to Sri Lanka to northern Australia and
Caryota mitis from Indo-China and Burma to Sulawesi. All are absent from the mountains but fairly common in parts of the lowlands. Only one mountain palm can be considered to be truly widespread this being Areca triandra whose distribution extends from India, IndoChina, down through the Malay Peninsular to Sumatra, Borneo and the Philippines.
The ability of a genus to diversify and speciate is very well illustrated by the Pinangas, which are one of the most successful understory plant groups to be found at Fraser's Hill. About nine species can be found at Fraser's Hill in relative abundance, growing more or less side by side. To tell the species apart within a given locality is fairly easy as the distinguishing characteristics are usually constant, but the same species found in another area, for example the lowlands or the Cameron Highlands (200 kms away) may be very different in size, leaf arrangement and stem thickness. The floral parts usually remain constant.
The Pinangas of Fraser's Hill are all forest undergrowth palms with some species prefering a sparser canopy cover than others. Most are clump-forming, but occasionally some are found as solitary stemmed specimens even though the particular species is usually clump forming.
What separates the Pinangas from their closest relatives, Areca and Nenga on the generic level is the arrangement of the flowers and the position in which the fruits are attached to the flower spikes. The flower arrangement of Pinanga consists of a female attended by two males on either side (called a triad) positioned in eithera spiral or laterally opposite or alternate along the whole length of the flower spike.
In Areca twin male flowers are restricted to the apical half of the spike with both male and female (one large female with a small male either side) together toward the base of the spike either in a spiral or two-ranked arrangement. As a result, the fruits of Areca form only at the base of the flower spike.
In Nenga the flowers are distributed the same as Areca but only spirally. The distinguishing feature is that the seeds are attached to the spike by their sides (laterally), not by their ends as in both Pinanga and Areca.
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