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Contributor: Charles R. Clement

Copyright © 1995. All Rights Reserved. Quotation from this document should cite and acknowledge the contributor.

  1. Common Names
  2. Scientific Name
  3. Uses
  4. Origin
  5. Crop Status
  6. Botany
  7. Crop Culture
  8. Germplasm
  9. Key References
  10. Selected Experts

A four-year-old, two-stemmed plant large enough to become reproductive.

Common Names

English: pejibaye, peach palm
Brazil: pupunha
Colombia: chontaduro
Costa Rica: pejibaye
Ecuador: chontaduro, chontaruro
Peru: pijuayo
Native American languages: at least 300 names, some of which are variations on pejibaye, gasipaes, or pupunha.

Scientific Name

Species: Bactris gasipaes Kunth
Family: Palmae or Arecaceae
Synonyms: Bactris speciosa Martius, Guilielma gasipaes (HBK) LHBailey and numerous others.


Palmito or palm heart, a gourmet vegetable with an expanding world market, is the only pejibaye product currently grown on a commercial scale. The apical and basal residue from palmito extraction also have potential use. The basal residue just below the apical meristem, is very tender and has a crispy texture. This could be made into cream soup or be thin-sliced (transversally) as a substitute for bamboo shoots, or deep fried to make chips. The apical residue is slightly fibrous leaf and petiole material, which can be used as a vegetable.

A 10 kg fruit bunch from the Benjamin Constant population of the Putumayo landrace know for its large (60-200 g), starchy fruit.

Traditionally, pejibaye is grown for its fruits. Fruits are boiled in salted water for 30 to 60 minutes to eliminate the irritating oxalate crystals and trypsin inhibitor. Pejibaye are frequently consumed at breakfast, or as an appetizer before meals. The cooked fruits are used whole in stews, or ground to a flour for use in a variety of preparations and pastries. The flavor of pejibaye fruit, depend on the carotenoid content, range from a distinctive bland to strong flavor. Some compare the flavors to that of potato or maize; some described it as sweet, and others say it resembles the flavor of the European chestnut. The described texture of cooked pehibaye range from that of a soggy potato to that of a good raw cashew (Anacardium occidentale L.). Low starch types generally being soggy and starchy, while low moisture types are more floury and crunchy. In Costa Rica the 'best' fruit are dry and starchy with a nutty texture; in Manaus the 'best' fruit are firm, less starchy and with a moderate oil level. Pejibaye fruits are available raw, in brine (Costa Rica) or dehydrated (Colombia).

Pejibaye flour was one of the alternative products developed by the Amerindians from the domesticated Putumayo and Vaupes 'macrocarpa' landraces of pejibaye. These landraces have larger fruit, extremely high starch and low oil levels, which is excellent for making flour. The pejibaye flour is similar to that of yellow cassava and maize flour, and could substitute these in both bread and cake recipes. When wheat flour is mixed with 10% pejibaye, the bread dough has excellent baking characteristics, with slightly less protein but higher energy (from the oil) and vitamin A (beta-carotene) content. When a mix of 85% wheat and 15% pejibaye is used, the dough is slightly heavier and similar to a 'natural' whole wheat bread. In the Manaus region, some pejibaye flours, with higher oil content, can be used successfully in cake recipes without any wheat flour.

The more primitive landraces, such as the 'microcarpa' group, have higher oil contents than those selected by the Amerindians. Some fruits were found to contain 62% oil in the dry mesocarp and 34% oil on bunch weight. Pejibaye oil contains more unsaturated fatty acids than palm oil, and the high quality meal after oil extraction, is suitable for humans use or as animal feed. The suggested yield is between 2-3 t/ha/yr of oil and could easily be raised to 5 or more tons in an improvement program.

In many areas of the humid tropics, cereals do not yield well without considerable amounts of input and know how. The use of dried pejibaye fruit as partial or complete substitutes for maize as animal ration is the major alternative use being studied. By using the culled fruit and heat extrusion to deactivate the trypsin inhibitor, a cheaper meal was used to substitute 30 to 60% of the maize in both starter and primary chicken rations.


Bactris (Jacq. ex Scop.) contains 250+ species, distributed in three subgenera, one with three sections and one with an additional subsection, all restricted to the Neotropics. The pejibaye is included within the subgenus Guilielma, which contains 3-8 species. The subgenus Guilielma is the pejibaye's secondary gene pool (GP-2). It contains a maximum of: B. caribea, B. ciliata, B. dahlgreniana, B. insignis, B. jamaicana, B. macana, and B. setulosa. All undomesticated species are small fruited (1-10, rarely 20 g) with large numbers of fruit/bunch (400-1500), but vegetatively similar to pejibaye (especially those in southwestern Amazonia), and occur allopatrically in northwestern South America, except for B. jamaicana from the Caribbean. These species, and the spontaneous populations of pejibaye, occur principally in disturbed ecosystems, along river edges, in forest gaps, etc. They require full sun to fruit; in its absence they may survive in the forest but do not reproduce. Local populations of pejibaye may hybridize with members of this gene pool. The tertiary gene pool (GP-3) includes all other members of the genus. Species of the subgenus Bactris sensu stricto may also hybridize naturally with pejibaye.

The origin of pejibaye is still being debated. Mora Urpí (1992) argues for a polyphyletic origin, with numerous local domestications throughout the GP-2 range. Clement (1988) argues that a monophyletic origin is more likely and that the observed variations originated through Amerindian selection, germplasm migration, adaptation to a wide range of environments and introgression with GP-2 and GP-3 species. In this case, the species was probably domesticated in southwestern Amazonia, where the most similar Guilielmas occur, principally B. ciliata, B. dahlgreniana, and B. insignis, one of which may be the progenitor.

Crop Status

The heart of palm and the fruit are the reasons for the current interest in pejibaye. Processing technology for the pejibaye palmito has been developed in Costa Rica and in Brazil. During the 1980s, more than 5000 ha were planted for heart of palm. Costa Rica is the leader in this agro-industry, but Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru are planting rapidly. During the period 1980-90 pejibaye heart of palm captured 20% of the four million dollar U.S. market and nearly as much of the US$30 million European market. World heart of palm commerce exceeded US$40 million in 1990, mostly extracted from wild populations of the genus Euterpe in the estuary of the Amazon river, which is devastating the natural populations.

Most pejibayes are spiny, both on the trunk and on the leaf petiole and rachis, which complicates extraction of the palmito. Several spineless populations have been found in western Amazonia, especially around Yurimaguas, Peru and Costa Rica. Reported yield of market quality pejibaye palmito were between 0.9 to 1.2 t/ha. With selected germplasm and good agronomic practices it may be possible to attain nearly 2 t/ha/yr of market quality palmito.

Fruit production was reported between 6 to 25 t/ha/yr of fresh bunches from non-selected germplasm, at US$ 0.50-1.00 per kilogram for the best quality fruit. Long-term potential uses for pejibaye fruits include direct human consumption; as a substitution for maize and sorghum in animal feed in the tropics; as a source of vegetable oil, and as flour for confectioneries, breads and beverages. Use of pejibaye as a productive shade should also be considered throughout the humid tropics for cacao and coffee plantations.


Bactris gasipaes (Kunth) has 2n = 2x = 28 (Mora Urpí 1984). he pejibaye is extremely variable morphologically, especially for fruit morphology and composition and spine characteristics. The pejibaye is an allogamous, caespitose palm. The stem internodes are generally heavily armed with thin, strong black spines of different sizes, although there are some populations which have been selected by the Amerindians for spinelessness. Stem diameter varies from 12 to 30 cm. Stem internode length varies from 5 to 40 cm during the early years, after which it becomes progressively reduced to about 1 to 2 cm in older plants, as these change from a purely vegetative to a fully reproductive phase. The plant may attain heights of 15 to 20 m quite rapidly, which is a major problem for fruit harvesting.

The leaves are pinnate, generally with a spiny petiole and rachis, and frequently spiny leaflet veins and edges. The mature leaf petiole ranges from 100 to 200 cm in length, while the mature leaf rachis ranges from 100 to 300 cm, and the whole frond curves downward with age. The induplicate leaflets number from 100 to 300 and are arranged in groups of 2 to 8 along the rachis, with each leaflet inserted at a different angle within the group, giving the frond a "shaggy" appearance. Leaflets range from 50 to 120 cm in length and 20 to 60 mm in width. Leaf area ranges from 2 to 6 m sq and leaf biomass from 0.7 to 1.2 kg. The inflorescences are monoecious, arising in the axil of each leaf and becoming visible as the leaf enters senescence. The inflorescence peduncle varies from 30 to 60 cm in length, and the rachis from 20 to 50 cm, with between 20 and 80 flower-bearing rachilla. Each rachilla has several to more than two dozen pistillate flowers and several hundred to more than a thousand staminate flowers. The inflorescence may contain anywhere from 25 to 1,200 pistillate and 10,000 to 30,000 staminate flowers. Although there is the potential of one inflorescence in each axil, this is rarely realized, since drought, poor plant nutrition, excessive yield in the previous year and other, as yet undetermined factors can cause abortion. Flowers are mostly pollinated by insects of Derelomus and Phylotrox species. Pejibaye may be partially or completely self-incompatible.

Crop Culture

Pejibaye is well adapted to a wide variety of environments, fruiting from 0-900+ m a.s.l., with 1500-8000 mm of rainfall and 0-6 month dry seasons, on nutrient poor Oxisols and Ultisols to nutrient rich Alfisols, but requiring full sun and well-drained sites. Seed should be obtained from plants selected for desirable fruit characteristics, high yield and spinelessness. The seeds should be germinated in loam substrate beds; if local soil pathogens are a problem, pure sand mulched with sawdust should be used. Fifty percent shade is recommended during germination and early nursery growth. Germination takes 60 to 120 days. At the two leaf stage, the seedlings are transplanted into 2 kg black plastic nursery bags. This is recommended because root damage from bare-root planting or other root disturbance in the juvenile stage can result in poor field establishment. The plantlets should be hardened at about 40-50 cm tall, 4-6 months after transplanting.

For monoculture plantations, 5x5 m spacing is recommended on poor soils and 6x6 m on rich soils. Contour planting is recommended and steep slopes should be avoided. A good planting pit of 40 cm minimum in all dimensions is prepared for each plant one month before planting. Each pit is partially filled with animal manure, organic refuse and about 100 g of P with topsoil. A catch basin should be formed at the downhill side of the planting pit. Seedlings are planted with the adventitious root crown just about 10 cm below soil surface. Field planting should be done at the start of the rainy season. Weed control is important during the first two rainy seasons, this should be done with as little disturbance of the soil as possible, as pejibaye roots are shallow and are easily damaged physically or by herbicides. Pouraria phasealoids and Desmodium ovatifolium ground covers are recommended. During the first two years, young plants should be side-dressed with 25 g of nitrogen fertilizer during the middle and end of the rainy season. At about 2 to 4 years, a single stemmed plant requires approximately 200 g P, 150 g N and K, and 50 g Mg. The phosphate and magnesium should be applied at the beginning of the rainy season and at intervals of two or three months, since phosphorus is the most limiting factor in the tropics. The liberal use of manures, organic wastes and leguminous covers should address the micro-nutrient requirements during early establishment of the field. Long-term management of the plantation will require occasional plantation renewal, when the plants become too tall for economic harvesting of the fruit. Plants should be managed to have one principal fruiting stem and a single lateral stem for renewal. Upon cutting the principal stem, generally at 10-15 years, its palmito can be extracted and its wood exploited. This form of management will give periodic harvests of palmito and wood to supplement the farmer's diet and income, and will occur in both monoculture and agroforestry systems. After renewal, the new reproductive stem will take 2-3 years to start fruiting.

For pejibaye palmito production, planting space should be about 1.5x1.5 m. The first harvest is done when 2-5 internodes are visible on the trunk, which is about two years after field planting. Three to four shoots are retained per mat for maximum palmito yield, and one per mat for best palmito size.

Until recently the pejibaye has been relatively free of pests and diseases, principally because it has been a low density agro-forestry component rather than a monoculture. Several diseases attack the fruit, generally after an initial insect has caused lesion. Phytophthera has been identified as an occasional problem in Costa Rica and may be expected to spread, especially in poorly managed and fertilized plantations. Leaf mites attack certain genotypes in some areas. Coleoptera and Diptera fruit and seed borers are frequently found. A Coleoptera seed borer has recently been found in Rondonia (Brazil) that eliminated nearly 100% of the yield in one small area. In Manaus, poor plant nutrition and a prolonged drought weakened the plants and opened the way for several Coleoptera, Diptera and Hemiptera which eliminated 85-90% of the expected harvest in 1988.


INPA-CENARGEN - Manaus, Brazil (450 accessions).
Sec. Agric. del Valle - Buenaventura, Colombia (400).
Corp. Araracuara - Araracuara, Colombia (100).
Corp. Araracuara - San Jose, Guaviare, Colombia (100).
Univ. Costa Rica - Guapiles, Costa Rica (950).
CATIE - Turrialba, Costa Rica (400).
INIAP - Napo-Payamino, Ecuador (320).
MIDINRA - El Recreo, Nicaragua (30).
IDIAP - Las Pavas, Panama (50).
INIPA - Iquitos, Peru (200).
INIPA - Yurimaguas, Peru (140).
Germplasm is available from most countries on an exchange basis between institutions. Private individuals looking for seed should contact the national germplasm bank and ask for local commercial sources.

Key References

Selected Experts

Charles R. Clement, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazonia - INPA, 69011-920 Manaus, AM, Brasil. tel. (55-92) 643-3377; fax (55-92) 643-3440; e-mail -

Jorge Mora Urpí, Escuela de Biologia, Universidad de Costa Rica, San Jos‚, Costa Rica. fax (506) 224-9367.

Mario H. Pinedo P., Estacion Experimental Agricola San Roque, INIAA, Apdo. 609, Iquitos, Loreto, Peru. fax. (51-94) 23 56 31.

Contributor: Charles R. Clement

Copyright © 1995. All Rights Reserved. Quotation from this document should cite and acknowledge the contributor.

Last update Tuesday, February 24, 1998 by aw