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Metroxylon sagu - The Sago Palm

This species is thought to have originated in Papua New Guinea where, without doubt, it is one of the most commonly seen palms. It has however spread from there to many regions in south east Asia because of its tremendous usefulness. In the Sepik area particularly the palm is the provider of the staple food. A trunk of a suckering palm is felled just before the appearance of its terminal inflorescence. Its carbohydrate content is then at its highest level in order to produce seeds. The marrow of the stem is laboriously chopped out as finely as possible and its starch then washed out and separated from the cellulose. 

This starch is cooked into a gooey substance and eaten perhaps with freshly caught fish. The leaves of this palm are commonly used for thatching which, I am told, will provide at least 5 years of dry shelter. It has been said that "...where Metroxylon sagu grows, nobody ever goes hungry". Seram Island, Moluccas, Indonesia

Cultivated since ancient times, this short, stocky palm is still the most important source of starch for many tribes on the islands of New Guinea and Borneo. The center of the palm is hewn out, kneaded, washed, dried and made into steamed pudding, cakes and crackers. 

Weevil larvae living inside the palm are also considered good eating, and sometimes are steamed inside the sago, making a most interesting dish! Many other parts of the palm are made use of as well - the trunk, stalks and fronds for building rafters, walls, mats and baskets.

For local use it is pulverized, but for the market it is usually sieved and then heated to form granules. The florists’ sago palm is not a true palm but a cycad of the American genus Zamia. Z. floridana, called wild sago or coontie, yields Florida arrowroot.


Photo credits: Rik Schuiling - mail to:





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