Sugar palm

An old Tamil saying suggests that this 30m high sugar palm (Borassus flabellifer) has 801 uses. The trunks are used as rafters, the leaves for thatch or for weaving mats and baskets and the fibre around the leaf bases is woven or used for brushes.

The developing seeds and sprouting seedlings are edible and the young shoots can be roasted and ground into flour. In addition, the clusters of flowers can be tapped for its sugary sap, which can be drunk fresh or fermented to make toddy. If boiled to remove the water it forms blocks of well-flavoured sugar.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the East India Company controlled much of the Indian subcontinent. Keen to exploit and export valuable natural commodities, the Company set out to record the flora of India and commissioned Indian artists to create detailed botanical illustrations. Many of the plants were known through their use in Ayurvedic medicine. One of the world’s oldest medicinal systems, it has been practised in India for 3,000 years.

Company School style paintings became popular with wealthy Europeans. It was not uncommon for East India Company officials (who were not employed as medics or botanists) to build their own personal collections of paintings depicting Indian flora and fauna. We cannot be sure how local amateur botanist Richard Cresswell came by this collection of 86 Company School works. It is possible Henry Creighton commissioned them during his time as a judge in Calcutta and that on his death the works came back to the UK with his granddaughter Frances who later married Richard Cresswell.
Accession Loan No.
Collection Class
watercolour on paper
Common Name
sugar palm
Simple Name
Full Name
Palinyra Tree
total sheet H 480 mm; total sheet length 290 mm
Production Person Surname
unknown Indian artist
Period Classification
George III (1760-1811)
Production Year Low
Production Year High
Production Town
Production County
Production Country
Production Area Region
South Asia
Production Continent
Family Group

Inscription / Transcription
HERB. MUS. EXON CRESSWELL COLLECTION 19/1927; No 80 Borassus Flabellifer Linn; Palinyra Tree

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