Oil Palm, common name for an ornamental and economically valuable palm tree, native to western Africa and widespread throughout the tropics. The oil palm grows up to 9 m (30 ft) in height. It has a crown of feathery leaves that are up to 5 m (15 ft) long. The flower cluster is on a short thick spike at the base of the leaves. Flowering is followed by the development of a cluster of egg-shaped, red, orange, or yellowish fruits. Each fruit is approximately 3 cm (1 in) long and contains from one to three seeds embedded in a reddish pulp.
Palm oil is extracted from the fruit pulp. This yellowish or reddish oil is used mostly in the manufacture of soap and candles. Palm oil is also the largest source of palmitic acid, a fatty acid used in numerous commercial processes. The more valuable palm kernel oil is obtained from the seed kernels of the fruit. This white oil has a pleasant odor and nutty flavor and is used in making margarine as well as soap and candles. The kernels are shipped to mills where the oil is extracted with solvents or by hydraulic presses. After extraction, the oil cake that is left over is used as cattle feed.
Another palm tree is also called an oil palm: the American oil palm. This tropical tree is native from Central America to the Amazon Basin. It grows to about 2 m (6 ft) in height and has long leaves with spiny leafstalks. The black fruits grow in dense clusters and were the source of an oil that early settlers used in making candles.
Scientific classification: The oil palm and the American oil palm are members of the family Arecaceae (formerly Palmae). The oil palm is classified as Elaeis guineensis, and the American oil palm as Elaeis oleifera.
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