Oil extracted from the seeds of the babassu palm is estimated to be worth five times as much as the coffee crop to the Brazilian economy. The fruits containing the oil-rich seeds are gathered from more or less pure stands of the palm which cover some 200,000 km² in Brazil from the Amazon basin northwards. In these areas the oil is burnt as a lamp fuel, and it is used for soap and cosmetics on an industrial scale.
The major factor restricting babassu oil production is the difficulty of cracking open the fruits to obtain the seeds. Each fruit, weighing up to 250 g, has a woody shell that may be 2 cm thick, requiring a force of 5 tonnes to break. The shells themselves are burnt to produce charcoal which is used locally as a cooking fuel. In the wild, agoutis and other rodents eat the starchy outer layer of the fruit and are responsible for short-range dispersal of the seeds.
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You can see a babassu palm in the Palm House
Search Kew's electronic Plant Information Centre for scientific information about Attalea speciosa