Areca Nut

Areca catechu L
Family: Palmae


Chewing the mixture of areca nut and betel leaf is a tradition or custom which dates back thousands of years in many Asian and Oceanic countries. It is not known when the areca nut and betel leaf was combined together in to one psychoactive drug. Archeological evidence from Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines suggests that they have been used for four thousand years or more. In the Indian sub continent chewing of betel and areca nut dates back to pre Vedic period to Harappan Empire. Chinese work “San-Hu-Sundan” supposed to have been written during 140-8 B.C. referred areca nut under the name of “pinlang”, a Malaysian word. Spanish mariner Alvaro de Mandena had reported how Solomon Islanders were chewing the areca nut with leaves of betel and caustic lime that stained their mouths red.

Opinion of the origin of the areca nut is uncertain and has diverging views. Different researchers have found wild species of the genus in Malaysia, The Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and in the Sumatra Islands of Indonesia.

Products and Uses

The fruit of the Areca palm, commonly called as areca nut, is mainly used for chewing with betel leaf in almost all South Asian Countries and in Many South East Asian and Oceanic countries. It is a mild stimulant cause a mild hot sensation to the body. Nut is used both in fresh and dried forms. In Pakistan and India Fresh nut are cut and flavored to produce different products. In China and India Areca nut is used in the preparation of Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicines. In India powdered areca nut is used as a constituent in some tooth pastes. In some parts of India powdered areca nuts, decoctions or extracted alkaloids from areca are used in the veterinary medicine to remove tapeworms and other intestinal parasites of animals.

Areca leaves are used to produce many house hold items, for decorative purposes a nd the leaf sheath to make fast decomposing plates, packing materials etc. Traditionally, areca leaf sheaths have been used to pack cooked rice and to preserve treacle of “Fish Tail Palm”. Matured stems are used as a building material as well as for decoration of religious events by Hindus. Young plants are used as an ornamental plant.

Major Growing Areas

In Sri Lanka areca nut is largely grown in the wet zone and wetter part of the Intermediate zone. However a small acreage of areca palms can be seen in the dry zone too especially near large water lakes and along waterways. Total extent of Areca nut in Sri Lanka is estimated to be about 12533Ha. Kalutara, Kandy, Kegalle, Ratnapura, Badulla and Matale districts are the major growing districts. Almost all areca nut palms are grown in home gardens or as mixed cultivations and little commercial cultivation can be found.


Areca nuts are grown in throughout wet and intermediate zones for centuries hence there is a wide genetic variability in the Island. A large number of local selections are available in different growing regions but there are number of introduced lines as well. Germplasm, of 1206 lines, is available at the Central Research Station of the Department of Export Agriculture at Matale and several lines which give yield over 1000 nuts/tree/yr have been selected and released to the cultivators.

Local arecanut is found in throughout Sri Lanka. Tree grows up to 15 – 20m. nuts shape can be either  round or oval. Number of nuts per bunch vary from 50-400.

3 Local arecanut selections have been released from Central Research Station Matale as new varieties.

  • Matale singhe

Around 4Kg of dried areca (Karunka) can be taken from one tree per year. Usually 4-5 bunches can be harvested from one tree per year. Row nut weights around 20g and it gives around 4.8g weight “Karunka’’ after drying.

  • Matale Chathura

Nut shape is little elongated. 4-5 bunches can be harvested per tree per year. One bunch bears around 250 nuts. After drying around 4.7 g “karunka” nut can be taken. Annual “Karunka” yield is around 4Kg.

  • Matale Raja

3-5 bunches can be harvested per tree per year. Total nut harvest is around 700 nuts per year per tree. Around 3.7 Kg of “Karunka” can be taken per year per tree.

 Rata Puwak

Trees are not much tall (8-12m). life span of the tree is around 12-15 years. Nuts are large and round in shape. Husk is yellow or green. Around 75 nuts can be harvested from one bunch. Around 4 bunches occur per year per tree. Harvest can be taken in off-seasons of other areca species. Karunka is not produced with rata Puwak.

Hamban puwak 

This is the most pleasant type used for chewing. Around 75-80 nuts bears in one bunch. Husk colour is yellow or reddish orange.

In addition to above species there are some other species available which are not popular for consumption. They are “ dothalu”, “Lenatari” , “Indian puwak” and ornamental Puwak.

Soils and Climatic needs

Areca nuts are grown well in a diverse soil types and they perform well in fertile clay loam soils or in gravelly laterite soils of red yellow podzolic type. Plant tolerates water logging to a certain extent and preferred more moist conditions. Sticky clay soils, sandy alluvial soils or calcareous soils are not suitable for the growth of areca plant. Around 1m soil depth is suitable (enough) slightly acidic soils with base salts, Low P & K levels are also suitable for areca nut cultivation.


The cultivation of areca nut is mainly confined to tropical climates. The crop thrives well in humid areas protected against direct hot sun and heavy wind. Exposure of young plants to direct sun causes sun scorching.

Altitude – Grow well up to 1000M AMSL.

Temperature – Grow well within 24º – 36ºC and adversely affected by temperatures below 10ºC and above 40ºC.

Rain fall – Can grow within 1750mm-4500mm average annual rain fall ranges. Wet climate with well spread rain fall are ideal for the growth. Areca nut plants are highly susceptible to prolong droughts and in such areas areca nut should be planted near permanent or semi permanent water bodies.

Wind – Low wind conditions

Shade – 20-30% of high shade levels are suitable. If direct sunlight falls on leaves turn to yellow leaves could.

Crop establishment

Planting has to be done with the on-set of monsoon rains. After the preparation of the field, young plants are established in pits of 45cmx45cmx45cm filled with the mixture of top soil and cow dung or compost. To facilitate remove excess water drainage channels must be built. When planting in slopes, contour planting is recommended. Application of organic manure is essential for better growth.

Spacing – 3.0m x 3.0m (1100 plants /ha) for mix cropping – banana plants can be established with 5.4mx5.4m spacing.

Shading – Seedlings should be protected against the exposure do the direct sun light. Temporary shading can be provided by covering the plants with areca leaves, coconut leaves or polythene. Permanent shade can be provided by intercropping with banana, papaw or cassava etc.

Soil conservation methods should be applied such as drains and terraces. In water logging felids, drains should be prepared and should avoid water logging conditions.

Crop management

Fertilizer application:

In Sri Lanka farmers do not fertilize areca nut. But in India, where commercial areca nut plantations exists application of fertilizer is recommended to get a higher yield.

Fertilizer recommendation:

Chemical fertilizer recommendation /plant/ year

100g of N (220g urea)

40g of P2O5 (200g roc k phosphate)

140g of K2O (225g muriate of potas h)

Should be applied in two split doses

Urea: Rock Phosphate:MOP

  3    :      2           :3  

First fertilizer application is done after 6 month of field establishment. After that fertilizer application is done in every year in Yala & Maha seasons.

Organic fertilizer

12 kg each of green leaf and compost/plant/year Fertilizers are applied in basins around the palm dug to a depth of 15-20cm and 0.5-1m radius leaving 20cm from the base of the palm. After application the soil is rolled up and covered with organic matter and soil. However, under Sri Lankan conditions, application of organic residues, green manure or compost at the base of the plant at the rate of 20 kg per palm in two split applications is recommended at the base of the plant.

Weed Control
Research in India has shown that cultivations free of weeds gives better yield

Mulching is a regular operation practiced in areca nut gardens in India. It keeps the plant base moist, reduces erosion and keeps the weeds under check. Chopped areca leaves and husks, grass or dry leaves are used for mulching.

Crop Protection

No economically important pest and disease problems are reported.

But some instances yellow leaf disease, stunting of crown, leaf molting disease, shedding of immature nuts have been reported.

Harvesting and Post Harvest practices

Areca plant takes 6-7 years for flowering but peak yield comes after 10-12 years old. Bunches of nuts are harvested at different stages of maturity based on the expected use. Usually in Sri Lanka matured nuts are harvested and used in a fresh form or in a dry form. If fermented, fresh nuts can be kept for about a year without deterioration the fresh quality.

Average yield – 3-4 bunches/tree/year

Medicinal and Chemical Properties

Chemical constituents in areca nut are tannin, garlic acid and a fixed oil gum, a little terpineol, lignin, various saline substances and three main alkaloids namely Arecoline, Arecain and Guacine which have vasoconstriction properties.

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