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Rattan (from the Malay rotan) is the name for roughly 600 species of old world climbing palms belonging to subfamily Calamoideae (from the Greek 'kálamos' = reed). Rattan is also known as manila, or malacca, named after the ports of shipment Manila and Malacca City, and as manau (from the Malay rotan manau, the trade name for Calamus manan canes in Southeast Asia). The climbing habit is associated with the characteristics of its flexible woody stem, derived typically from a secondary growth, makes rattan a liana rather than a true wood.
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Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 (Dinesh Valke from Thane, India).

Rattan (from the Malay rotan) is the name for roughly 600 species of old world climbing palms belonging to subfamily Calamoideae (from the Greek 'kálamos' = reed).[1] Rattan is also known as manila, or malacca, named after the ports of shipment Manila and Malacca City, and as manau (from the Malay rotan manau, the trade name for Calamus manan canes in Southeast Asia).[2] The climbing habit is associated with the characteristics of its flexible woody stem, derived typically from a secondary growth, makes rattan a liana rather than a true wood.


Calamoideae also includes tree palms such as Raphia (Raffia) and Metroxylon (Sago palm) and shrub palms such as Salacca (Salak) (Uhl & Dransfield 1987 Genera Palmarum).[1] The climbing habit in palms is not restricted to Calamoideae, but has also evolved in three other evolutionary lines—tribes Cocoseae (Desmoncus with c. 7–10 species in the New World tropics) and Areceae (Dypsis scandens in Madagascar) in subfamily Arecoideae, and tribe Hyophorbeae (climbing species of the large genus Chamaedorea in Central America) in subfamily Ceroxyloideae.[3] They do not have spinose stems and climb by means of their reflexed terminal leaflets.[3] Of these only Desmoncus spp. furnish stems of sufficiently good quality to be used as rattan cane substitutes.[3]

There are 13 different genera of rattans that include around 600 species.[3] Some of the species in these "rattan genera" have a different habit and do not climb, they are shrubby palms of the forest undergrowth; nevertheless they are close relatives to species that are climbers and they are hence included in the same genera.[1][3] The largest rattan genus is Calamus, distributed in Asia except for one species represented in Africa.[3] From the remaining rattan genera, Daemonorops, Ceratolobus, Korthalsia, Plectocomia, Plectocomiopsis, Myrialepis, Calospatha, Pogonotium and Retispatha, are centered in Southeast Asia with outliers eastwards and northwards;[3] and three are endemic to Africa: Laccosperma (syn. Ancistrophyllum), Eremospatha and Oncocalamus.[3]

The rattan genera and their distribution (Uhl & Dransfield 1987 Genera Palmarum,[4] Dransfield 1992):[3]

In Uhl & Dransfield (1987 Genera Palmarum,[4] 2ºed. 2008), and also Dransfield & Manokaran (1993[5]), a great deal of basic introductory information is available.[1]

Available rattan floras and monographs by region (2002[3]):

Uses by taxon.

The major commercial species of rattan canes as identified for Asia by Dransfield and Manokaran (1993) and for Africa, by Tuley (1995) and Sunderland (1999) (Desmoncus not treated here):[3]

Utilized Calamus species canes:[19]

Other traditional uses of rattans by species:[3]


Most rattans differ from other palms in having slender stems, 2–5 cm diameter, with long internodes between the leaves; also, they are not trees but are vine-like lianas, scrambling through and over other vegetation. Rattans are also superficially similar to bamboo. Unlike bamboo, rattan stems ("malacca") are solid, and most species need structural support and cannot stand on their own. Many rattans have spines which act as hooks to aid climbing over other plants, and to deter herbivores. Rattans have been known to grow up to hundreds of metres long. Most (70%) of the world's rattan population exist in Indonesia, distributed among the islands Borneo, Sulawesi, and Sumbawa. The rest of the world's supply comes from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Bangladesh.

Economic and environmental issues

In forests where rattan grows, its economic value can help protect forest land, by providing an alternative to loggers who forgo timber logging and harvest rattan canes instead. Rattan is much easier to harvest, requires simpler tools and is much easier to transport. It also grows much faster than most tropical wood. This makes it a potential tool in forest maintenance, since it provides a profitable crop that depends on rather than replaces trees. It remains to be seen whether rattan can be as profitable or useful as the alternatives.[citation needed]

Rattans are threatened with overexploitation, as harvesters are cutting stems too young and reducing their ability to resprout.[21] Unsustainable harvesting of rattan can lead to forest degradation, affecting overall forest ecosystem services. Processing can also be polluting. The use of toxic chemicals and petrol in the processing of rattan affects soil, air and water resources, and also ultimately people's health. Meanwhile, the conventional method of rattan production is threatening the plant's long-term supply, and the income of workers.[22]


Furniture making

Rattans are extensively used for making baskets and furniture. When cut into sections, rattan can be used as wood to make furniture. Rattan accepts paints and stains like many other kinds of wood, so it is available in many colours, and it can be worked into many styles. Moreover, the inner core can be separated and worked into wicker.

Generally, raw rattan is processed into several products to be used as materials in furniture making. The various species of rattan range from several millimetres up to 5–7 cm in diameter. From a strand of rattan, the skin is usually peeled off, to be used as rattan weaving material. The remaining "core" of the rattan can be used for various purposes in furniture making. Rattan is a very good material, mainly because it is lightweight, durable, suitable for outdoor use, and, to a certain extent, flexible.


Traditionally, the women of the Wemale ethnic group of Seram Island, Indonesia wore rattan girdles around their waist.[23]

Corporal punishment

Thin rattan canes were the standard implement for school corporal punishment in England and Wales, and are still used for this purpose in schools in Malaysia, Singapore, and several African countries. Similar canes are used for military punishments in the Singapore Armed Forces.[24] Heavier canes, also of rattan, are used for judicial corporal punishments, called "caning", in Aceh, Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore.[25]

Food source

Some rattan fruits are edible, with a sour taste akin to citrus. The fruit of some rattans exudes a red resin called dragon's blood; this resin was thought to have medicinal properties in antiquity and was used as a dye for violins, among other things.[26] The resin normally results in a wood with a light peach hue. In the Indian state of Assam, the shoot is also used as vegetable.[citation needed]

Medicinal potential

In early 2010, scientists in Italy announced that rattan wood would be used in a new "wood to bone" process for the production of artificial bone. The process takes small pieces of rattan and places it in a furnace. Calcium and carbon are added. The wood is then further heated under intense pressure in another oven-like machine, and a phosphate solution is introduced. This process produces almost an exact replica of bone material. The process takes about 10 days. At the time of the announcement the bone was being tested in sheep, and there had been no signs of rejection. Particles from the sheep's bodies have migrated to the "wood bone" and formed long, continuous bones. The new bone-from-wood programme is being funded by the European Union. Implants into humans were anticipated to start in 2015.[27]


Rattan is the preferred natural material used to wick essential oils in aroma reed diffusers (commonly used in aromatherapy, or merely to scent closets, passageways, and rooms), because each rattan reed contains 20 or more permeable channels that wick the oil from the container up the stem and release fragrance into the air, through an evaporation diffusion process. In contrast, reeds made from bamboo contain nodes that inhibit the passage of essential oils.[28][29][30]

Handicraft and arts

Many of the properties of rattan that make it suitable for furniture also make it a popular choice for handicraft and art pieces. Uses include rattan baskets, plant containers, and other decorative works.

Due to its durability and resistance to splintering, sections of rattan can be used as canes, crooks for high-end umbrellas, or staves for martial arts. Rattan sticks 70 cm long, called baston, are used in Filipino martial arts, especially Arnis/Eskrima/Kali and for the striking weapons in the Society for Creative Anachronism's full-contact "armoured combat".[31][32]

Along with birch and bamboo, rattan is a common material used for the handles in percussion mallets, especially mallets for keyboard percussion, e.g., marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, etc.

Shelter material

Most natives or locals from the rattan rich countries[where?] employ the aid of this sturdy plant in their home building projects. It is heavily used as a housing material in rural areas. The skin of the plant or wood is primarily used for weaving.[citation needed]

Sports equipment

Rattan cane is also used traditionally to make polo mallets, though only a small portion of cane harvested (roughly 3%) is strong, flexible, and durable enough to be made into sticks for polo mallets, and popularity of rattan mallets is waning next the more modern variant, fibrecanes.[citation needed]

  1. ^ a b c d J Dransfield. 2002. General Introduction to Rattan - The Biological Background to Exploitation and the History of Rattan Research. http://www.fao.org/docrep/003/y2783e/y2783e06.htm#P889_66944
  2. ^ Johnson, Dennis V. (2004): Rattan Glossary: And Compendium Glossary with Emphasis on Africa. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, p. 22.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Terry C.H. Sunderland and John Dransfield. Species Profiles. Ratans. http://www.fao.org/docrep/003/y2783e/y2783e05.htm
  4. ^ a b Uhl, N.W. & Dransfield, J., 1987. Genera palmarum: a classification of palms based on the work of H.E.Moore Jr. pp 610. The International Palm Society & the Bailey Hortorium, Kansas.
  5. ^ Dransfield, J. & Manokaran, N. (eds), 1993. Rattans. PROSEA volume 6. Pudoc, Wageningen. pp 137.
  6. ^ Dransfield, J., 1979. A Manual of the Rattans of the Malay Peninsula. Malayan Forest Records No. 29. Forestry Department. Malaysia.
  7. ^ Dransfield, J., 1984. The rattans of Sabah. Sabah Forest Record No. 13. Forestry Department, Malaysia.
  8. ^ Dransfield, J., 1992a. The Rattans of Sarawak. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Sarawak Forest Department.
  9. ^ Dransfield, J., 1998. The rattans of Brunei Darussalam. Forestry Department, Brunei Darussalam and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, UK.
  10. ^ De Zoysa, N. & K. Vivekenandan, 1994. Rattans of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka Forest Department. Batteramulla.
  11. ^ Basu, S.K., 1992. Rattan (canes) in India: a monographic revision. Rattan Information Centre. Kuala Lumpur.
  12. ^ Renuka, C., 1992. Rattans of the Western Ghats: A Taxonomic Manual. Kerala Forest Research Institute, India.
  13. ^ Lakshmana, A.C., 1993. The rattans of South India. Evergreen Publishers. Bangalore. India.
  14. ^ Renuka, C., 1995. A manual of the rattans of the Andaman and Nicobar islands. Kerala Forest Research Insititute, India.
  15. ^ Alam, M.K., 1990. The rattans of Bangladesh. Bangladesh Forest Research Institute. Dhaka.
  16. ^ Johns, R. & R. Taurereko, 1989a. A preliminary checklist of the collections of Calamus and Daemonorops from the Papuan region. Rattan Research Report 1989/2.
  17. ^ Johns, R. & R. Taurereko, 1989b. A guide to the collection and description of Calamus (Palmae) from Papuasia. Rattan Research Report 1989/3
  18. ^ Hodel, D., 1998. The palms and cycads of Thailand. Allen Press. Kansas. USA.
  19. ^ Rattan Glossary. Appendix III. http://www.fao.org/docrep/006/Y5232E/y5232e07.htm#P5059_100907 In: RATTAN glossary and Compendium glossary with emphasis on Africa. NON-WOOD FOREST PRODUCTS 16. FAO - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  20. ^ Rattan Glossary. http://www.fao.org/docrep/006/Y5232E/y5232e04.htm#P31_5904 In: RATTAN glossary and Compendium glossary with emphasis on Africa. NON-WOOD FOREST PRODUCTS 16. FAO - Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. http://www.fao.org/docrep/006/Y5232E/y5232e00.htm#TopOfPage
  21. ^ MacKinnon, K. (1998) Sustainable use as a conservation tool in the forests of South-East Asia. Conservation of Biological Resources (E.J. Milner Gulland & R Mace, eds), pp 174–192. Blackwell Science, Oxford.
  22. ^ "WWF Rattan Switch project". WWF. July 2010. Archived from the original on 3 August 2010. Retrieved 16 July 2010. 
  23. ^ Piper, Jaqueline M. (1995). Bamboo and rattan, traditional uses and beliefs. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0195889987. 
  24. ^ "Singapore: Caning in the military forces". World Corporal Punishment Research.  (Includes a photograph of a military caning in progress)
  25. ^ "Judicial caning in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei". World Corporal Punishment Research. 
  26. ^ "Rattan". Encyclopedia.com. 
  27. ^ "Turning wood into bones". BBC News. 8 January 2010. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  28. ^ "FAQS: Questions: Question 3". The Diffusery. 
  29. ^ "FAQS: Questions: Question 2". Avotion. 
  30. ^ "How To Choose The Best Diffuser Reeds". Reed Diffuser Guide. 
  31. ^ "What is the SCA?". Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc. Retrieved 14 July 2012. Since we prefer that no one gets hurt, SCA combatants wear real armor and use rattan swords. 
  32. ^ Marshals' Handbook (PDF) (March 2007 revision ed.). Society for Creative Anachronism. March 2007. Retrieved 16 March 2010. 

Further reading

  • Siebert, Stephen F. (2012). The Nature and Culture of Rattan: Reflections on Vanishing Life in the Forests of Southeast Asia. University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-3536-1.

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