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Nipa (Nypa fruticans)

Photo and copyright: Md. Farid Hossain and, Md. Anwarul Islam | Utilization of Mangrove Forest Plant: Nipa Palm (Nypa fruticans Wurmb.) | American Journal of Agriculture and Forestry, http://article.sciencepublishinggroup.com/html/10.11648.j.ajaf.20150304.16.html

Description and Characteristics

Nipa is a monocious and pleonanthic palm meaning it is a plant that bears both male and female flowers, and does so without dying after its flower cycle. The male flowerhead of Nipa is brown, erect, up to one meter high while the female measures one meter high or less. Nipa has a stout, trunkless, and thornless rootstock with parts submerged in water or mud. Its leaves are at the ends of the rootstocks arising from the well-founded underground stem. Leaves are large growing up to five to ten meters long, compound, and are in a rosette arrangement. The younger leaves appear from the middle of the palm and push the older leaves aside before they dry and fade away, leaving behind spherical scars of leaf bases. Both sides of a leaf contain numerous leaflets that are rigid, lanceolate, measuring up to one meter long, two to seven centimeters wide. Moreover, Nipa grows fruit that is globose in shape, measuring up to 30 centimeters in diameter, and is usually nodding or falling forward. Each fruit is composed of several compressed, dark-brown, seed-bearing structures known as carpels. Carpels are ovate with a narrower end at the base, smooth, and measuring up to 14 centimeters or longer. Inside a carpel is the white hard seed that grows as large as a hen’s egg.

Location and Sources

Being a mangrove palm, Nipa grows best along tidal streams in brackish swamps and muddy banks. For this reason, nipa palm occupies estuarine tidal floodplains of rivers or the wide part of a river at the place where it joins the sea. Nipa palm swamp soils are muddy and rich in alluvial silt, clay, and humus. In the Philippines, nipa palms grow throughout the country in large areas of favorable habitats including Bohol and Cebu. Normally, nipa palm forms pure stands, but in some areas it grows mixed with other mangrove trees.

Application and Product Output

Years ago, Nipa was one of the most important economic Philippine crops locally as it is one of the main materials for building and construction of native establishments. Nipa leaves are one of the most commonly used materials for thatching and its main application as a roofing and walling material is evident in the houses of many Filipinos especially back to the early settlers of the country when cement was not introduced yet. In many occasions, leaves of nipa palms are used more often than that of the coconut because its leaves are considered to be far superior to and more durable than coconut thatch. The introduction of new processed materials for construction such as cement and galvanized steel roofing materials causes the decline of nipa palm as a construction material. Currently, nipa palm are used as roofing and walling material for small cottages, rest houses, and waiting sheds. The leaflets are also used for weaving hats, raincoats, baskets, bags, mats, and as food wrappers for some Filipino delicacies. The leaflet’s midribs are traditionally used for making brooms while dried leaves, petiole, stem wood, fruit residues etc. of nipa palm are used as fuel.

Modernized Nipa Hut by Cebu-based designer and a bamboo advocate Bonn Tumanda. Photo and copyright: igreenspot : green products & innovations | https://www.igreenspot.com/modernized-nipa-hut-by-bonn-tumanda/

The sugary sap from the flowerhead stalk of nipa palm is used to make vinegar, and like those of other palms such as the coconut, it is also used to make a popular alcoholic beverage better known as lambanog. Additionally, further processing of the sap yields one of the well-known edible nipa produce which is the sugar. Vinegar and sugar produce from nipa palm are traded locally and exported internationally. Nipa palm is also proven to have many medicinal benefits. The decoction of its fresh leaves is used for indolent ulcers while the juice of its young shoots combined with coconut milk is used as a drink for treating herpes. In some local communities, the ash of roots and leaves are used for headaches and toothaches. 

Nipa palm also serves as a food source not just for the aquatic animals residing near it but as well as to the people, since the young flower stalk and seeds are a good source of water and food. Furthermore, the white endosperm of immature seeds are sweet and jelly-like and can be consumed as a snack. Lastly, nipa palms have been used for erosion control along coastal mudflats. The linear plantings of nipa palms enhance crop production, protect people and livestock, and benefit soil and water conservation in its area of plantation. 

 Nipa Palm Sugar by Verdantkart located in Davao, Philippines. Photo and copyright: Nipa Palm Sugar Verdantkart via Facebook | https://web.facebook.com/verdantkart/

Production and Sustainable Consumption

The fabrication of thatching panels from nipa palms, called locally “shingles”, “pawid”, “atop”, or “atap”, is a significant local source of income from time immemorial up to these days. Though this production is only in small scale, a study conducted in the province of Bohol showed that Nipa is more utilized for shingles production than any other uses. The study also indicated that long harvest cycles of nipa increase the percentage of wastage due to over maturing of fronds. Thus, the researchers established that a three‐month harvest cycle would be best for nipa stands because this would enable frequent cleaning and release of maturing fronds from competition for space and would also prevent over maturing of fronds. In the long run, yields from nipa palm would be maximised efficiently and this will help sustain the nipa palm industry. 

The sustainable utilization of nipa includes the environmental, social, and economic aspects — environmental: riverbank erosion prevention and soil stabilization, social: communal production of various materials/products and as a food source, economic: income generation for the locals. In communities where there’s an abundance of nipa palms, the lifestyle of local settlers is linked with nipa palms and people rely on making nipa palm products for primary and supplementary income. The use of new technology and processed materials for building and construction is more favorable in the current times, that’s why consumption of nipa palms for the said purpose is done only in small scale and relying only on the naturally grown ones. Nipa palm as a source of vinegar and sugar is a promising aspect for the economic potential of this crop.

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Works Cited

“Nypa fruticans (nipa palm)”. CABI Invasive Species Compendium, https://www.cabi.org/isc/datasheet/36772. Accessed 14 February 2021.

“Nypa fruticans – Wurmb”. Plant For A Future, https://pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Nypa+fruticans. Accessed 14 February 2021.

Camacho, Leni, Camacho, Sofronio, Carandang, Antonio, Carandang, Myrna, Gevaa, Dixon, Rebugio, Lucrecio, Youn, Yeo‐Chang. “Sustainable thatching materials production from nipa (nypa fruticans) in Bohol, Philippines”. Taylor & Francis Online, Forest Science and Technology, vol. 5, issue 1, Jun. 2009, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/citedby/10.1080/21580103.2008.9656343?scroll=top&needAccess=true. Accessed 14 February 2021.

Chanklap, Boontaree, Cheablam, Onanong. “Sustainable Nipa Palm (Nypa fruticans Wurmb.) Product Utilization in Thailand”. Scientifica, vol. 2020, https://www.hindawi.com/journals/scientifica/2020/3856203/#materials-and-methods. Accessed 14 February 2021.

Hossain, Farid MD. “Utilization of Mangrove Forest Plant: Nipa Palm (Nypa fruticans Wurmb.)”. ResearchGate, American Journal of Agriculture and Forestry, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/282451676_Utilization_of_Mangrove_Forest_Plant_Nipa_Palm_Nypa_fruticans_Wurmb. Accessed 14 February 2021.

Hossain, Farid, Islam, Anwarul. “Utilization of Mangrove Forest Plant: Nipa Palm (Nypa fruticans Wurmb.)”. SciencePG, American Journal of Agriculture and Forestry, Vol. 3, Issue 4, July 2015, http://article.sciencepublishinggroup.com/html/10.11648.j.ajaf.20150304.16.html#paper-content-6. Accessed 14 February 2021.

Saka, Shiro, Tamunaidu, Pramila. “Chemical characterization of various parts of nipa palm (Nypa fruticans)”. ScienceDirect, Industrial Crops and Products, vol. 34, issue 3, Nov. 2011, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0926669011001300. Accessed 14 February 2021.

Stuart, Godofredo Jr. “Nipa”. StuartXchange, http://www.stuartxchange.org/Nipa.html. Accessed 14 February 2021.

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