Panama hat plant
The Panama hat plant (Carludovica palmata) has palm-like leaves but is, in fact, not a palm at all but belongs to an unrelated family, Cyclanthaceae. It reaches 1-2 m in height, with a short stem not evident above the ground. The young leaves are collected and then carefully washed, dried, bleached and plaited to make Panama hats; it takes roughly six leaves to make one hat.
The name 'Panama hat' is a misnomer as most are made in Ecuador (four million annually), with a few being made in Colombia and Peru. The name was applied by Europeans as the hats were first exported from Panama.
The fibre used is extremely resilient and flexible and enables the hats to regain their shape even after having been rolled up or squashed flat. The best hats come from Jipi-japa and Montecristi.
Find out more
You can see a Panama hat plant in the Palm House
Search Kew's electronic Plant Information Centre for scientific information about Carludovica palmata