I looked at my hand. It rested on a cleared space of the trunk of a palm tree. Above and below my hand, the trunk was covered with hard, sharp needles. If my hand had been six inches higher i would have had a dozen poisonous spikes through my palm. We were four hours by trail, boat, and taxi ride from any kind of medical care.
I was lucky. Someone had carefully cleared the tree trunk of needles, exactly where a clumsy visitor's hand would land if he stumbled and fell.
I learned my first big lesson about the jungle: Look carefully before you put your hand anywhere.
I was too freaked out to remember to take a picture of the needles. When I got home I searched the Internet for several days before I finally found the tree. Its latin name is Bactris gasipaes. The tree trunk shown below has been cleared of spines every foot or so.
|Four inch spines. Used for needles, weapons and fish hooks.|
In the past, indigenous peoples used the spines for needles, fish hooks and weapons. The tree has been cultivated since pre-Columbian times, and today it is an important part of the economies of Central and South America. The tree is a source of food. The trunk is harvested for palm hearts. The fruit is eaten raw, reduced to edible cooking oil, processed into flour, or cooked into jelly.