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 Post subject: Palu: Tall and solid it stands
 Post Posted: Mon Aug 22, 2005 12:33 am 
Palu Tree: Tall and solid it stands

The Palu tree is well known in the intermediate and dry zones of Sri Lanka and is particularly abundant in the Wanni region and the southeastern part of the island. It is a large tree with a clean stem – that is to say the trunk is more or less straight and unbranched.

A few trees like the giant Palu, will over several decades, grow to tower over their rival plants who are competing for the same scarce resources of soil nutrients, water and sunlight. Therefore every Palu tree in the dry zone is a story of success, a story of bitter rivalry waged in the plant kingdom and a tall notice of the victor's triumph.

The Palu ( Manilkara hexandra ) or Ironwood Tree is also a beautiful tree conforming to the classical shapes and proportions of what one expects from a tree. It has a robust trunk, with a bark which is deeply fissured into small rectangles. In the field it can be identified by its dark grayish black bark with deeply fissured with thid distinctive pattern.

The leaves are simple and oblong and are usually dark green and shiny. A spreading canopy is formed from tight clusters of dark green leaves. The flowers of this tree are small, pale yellow and appear on rusty stalks. They attract bees and the honey so produced is said to have a distinctive flavour. The flowering season is from January to about March.


In May and June, the canopy becomes encrusted with a mass of yellow berries. The bright yellow berries are about 1cm in diameter and are usually abundant round about July. These berries are a favourite with the Sloth bear who are often seen near a fruiting Palu tree in places like Yala. The tree which is rich of symbolism, now signals the start of the bear watching season in the dry zone jungles of Sri Lanka. In the south these fruits are preserved in honey.

The old trees become hollow inside and produce a huge bole (hollow trunk) and Worthington writes that as a result of this bole a “fire laid at the root produces smoke at the branches”! (Ceylon Trees by T.B.Worthington).

The Palu is able to withstand the prolonged droughts of the Sri Lankan dry zone and is a major component of the dry zone thorn scrub vegetation. It is often associated with Ebony, Satinwood and Wira. Writing of this tree Popham says “with imposing dignity, Palu lords it over the dry jungle, a majestic ‘senator of mighty wood’. This noble tree is the embodiment of stability and staying power” (in Dambulla: A Sanctuary of Tropical Trees). The wood of the Palu is very hard and an opulent red. It is used to make beams, piles and in earlier days when it was much more abundant railway sleepers. The bark has medicinal properties.

Known in Sinhala as the Palu, the Tamil name is Palai and the scientific name is Manilkara hexandra. It is indigenous to Sri Lanka and to India. Look out for the Palu when you next visit the dry zone especially in areas like Yala.

Compiled by Ruk Rakaganno, The Tree Society of Sri Lanka. Please write in with your ideas, comments and suggestions to Ruk Rakaganno - 2554438; email: rukraks@sltnet.lk

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