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Oil Palm

(1) Common Name : African oil palm
Genus : Elaeis
Species : guineensis
Abbreviation : E. guineensis
Origin : Africa
(2) Common Name : American oil palm
Genus : Elaeis
Species : oleifera
Abbreviation : E. oleifera
Origin : South America

Oil palm is an unbranched monoecious plant that belongs to the genus Elaeis. There are two species of oil palm, E. guineensis and E. oleifera. Oil palm is unique in that it produces oil from the mesocarp (palm oil) and kernel (palm kernel oil). Palm oil is mainly used as edible oil as well as a viable source of biodiesel, while palm kernel oil is primarily used for industrial purposes.

The first oil palm was introduced into South East Asia and planted in Bogor Botanical Gardens, Java in 1848. From there, it was brought into Malaysia through Singapore as ornamental palms. Commercial exploitation of the oil palm in Malaysia (then Malaya) only started in 1917. Since then, oil palm has become a major crop in the region, especially Malaysia and Indonesia. E. guineensis, the prefered species grown in South East Asia has three fruit forms, dura, tenera and pisifera. The tenera, which is a hybrid between dura and pisifera is planted for commercial purposes due to its thick mesocarp and thin shell. The tenera produces about 30% more oil than the dura while the pisifera is usually female sterile.

The productivity of oil palm is unprecedented, producing ~37% of the total vegetable oil on only 5% of the total acreage of vegetable oil crops. This is quite spectacular considering that the oil palm has been selectively bred for only a century. In breeding trials, individual palms with yields of up to 12 t/ha/yr have been identified. Thus decoding of the oil palm genome is set to increase productivity through genomics-guided breeding and make the oil palm an even more sustainable oil crop.