In rural villages of Sarawak the sight of tall palms over topping the village landscape is a common if not typical scenery. Rural folks plant coconut and betel palms for their fruits. The betel nut palm is locally known as 'Pinang' and there is even a state in Malaysia that derived its name from the betel palm i.e. the island of Pulau Pinang ( 'Penang' in colloquial English), sometimes also known as 'The Pearl of the Orient' among tourism circles.
The betel palm ( Arecha catechu) is native to this part of the world including Indonesia. The palm is single-trunked and topped with a cluster of terminal fronds. Below the bases of the fronds are branches of the ripe fruits in colours of yellow, orange or red. To collect the fruits requires the skill of an experienced climber because the trees can reach a height of 12-20 meters high.
The fruits are sold ( see inset) as jungle produce items at many a local jungle produce markets throughout Sarawak. For landscaping purposes I feel that more betel nut palms should be grown in urban parks or open spaces in Sarawak. Presently they are being sidelined in favour of expensive imported palms, which I think is most unwise. Its narrow crown and slim trunk demand very little space and therefore suitable to be planted in small urban residential gardens. Furthermore its roots aren't too adventurous and yet withstand extreme wind velocities. I prefer to plant them in a small group of threes or fives forming a 'groove-like' composition.
The Malays or native ladies of Sarawak ( my mother included) love to chew the nuts as a mild narcotic. The oval fruits is cut into half and the nut sliced thinly before it is chewed together with lime and betel pepper leaves ( Piper betel). There is a rich cultural tradition of consuming the betel nuts and betel leaves that survive to this day. The practise of consuming them is prevalent in marriage ceremonies, traditional healing rituals and many casual social gatherings.
From ripe seeds Pinang trees are easily propagated and the palms bear fruits throughout the year.