African oil palm
The African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) is the highest yielding of all tropical oil-producing plants. Palm oil is pressed from the orange flesh of its fruits and palm kernel oil from its seed. Most palm oil is used in margarine, ice-cream, coffee whitener and other food products, but some is also used as animal feed and in the manufacture of soaps, lubricants and candles. Palm kernel oil is also widely used as an edible fat.
The plant is native to the more humid areas of West Africa, where it grows along river banks at rainforest edges. As well as pressing oil from its fruits, local people collect its sap to make palm wine and use its leaves and trunks as building materials.
Commercially, oil palms are generally grown in plantations. Most palm oil is produced in South-East Asia, which exported nearly 8 million tonnes in 1990.
Find out more
Search Kew's electronic Plant Information Centre for scientific information about Elaeis guineensis