Copernicia prunifera or the carnaúba palm or carnaubeira palm is a species of palm tree native to northeastern Brazil (mainly the states of Ceará, Piauí, Maranhão, Rio Grande do Norte and Bahia). Known by many as tree of life, because of its many uses, the Carnaúba is also the symbol tree of Ceará. The initiative to turn it into a symbol aims to promote its conservation and sustainable use.
Copernica prunifera can grow up to 20 m height with an average 25 cm diameter trunk,circular tree crown, with fan-leaves measuring 1,5m, bisexual flowers and small black round fruits (2.5 cm). The palm can live up to 200 years. Although it withstands drought excellently, it has a high water requirement. A slight saline composition in the soil produces the best trees. Carnaubas are social palm trees, they are found in Carnaubais (assembly/group of Carnaubas) in flooded areas or near rivers. Taxonomically it belongs to the subfamily Coryphoideae, tribe Corypheae, subtribe Livistoninae.
It is the source of carnauba wax, which is harvested from the coating on the leaves of the tree. The fruit and pith are eaten, the leaves are variously employed and the wood is used in building.
Carnauba produces several outcomes that have innumerous applications. Its fruits are used as fed to cattle, donkeys, goats and pigs can also be used to produce jelly for human consumption. Its pulp is extracted and dried to produce carnauba flour, largely consumed by natives. Cooking oil can be extracted from the seed, which are also edible. When roasted, fruits are used to replace coffee.
Nonetheless, the most important product of Carnauba tree is its wax. Extracted from its leaves, the Carnauba wax can be used in floor, leather, furniture, car and shoe polish and enters into the manufacturer of carbon paper and candles – to raise the melting point, chalk, matches, soap and woodwork stains  Carnauba wax consists of myricyl cerotate and small quantities of cerotic acid and myricyl alcohol. After harvesting, the leaves are left on the field to dry under the sun. The thin layer of wax coating plant material transforms into a powder, which is then separated through beating and whisking the dried leaves. The powder is concentrated in a mortar that will be mixed with water and melted to produce liquid wax. After drying it is concentrated into chunks and sold.
The Leaf Fibers as a byproduct of the wax production are known as "bagana" and they can be used as compost, soil coverage to maintain humidity or compressed into briquettes with a high calorific value for energy production. The leaf fibers, or "palha", are also employed in the manufacture of objects such as hats, baskets, bags and many others domestic products (Steinle and Johnson, 1935; Duke and duCellier). These handicraft products are very appreciated by tourists and represent an important source of income to the local population. The wax palm leaves can also be used in rustic roof making.
Due to the natural resistance against the most common wood pests, such as termites, the Carnauba Wood is a valued local construction material. Although it is mainly used by people with low income, its employ in beach tents – not only as central pillar/column/post, but also as the leaf roof - is very common.
It withstands drought excellently. A slight saline composition in the soil produces the best trees.
To produce wax, harvesting operations have to be carried during the dry season to assure complete drying of the leaves. The harvest is normally done from August to December. However, when there are periods of longer winters, the harvest has to be delayed. A palm tree can produce up to 60 leaves per plant, especially after a very intense rainy season. Harvested with a long pole ending in a knife (Figure 1), the top leaves are removed for its better wax production. To maintain sustainable production of Carnauba, cuttings are performed three times a year, in intervals of 80 days, from the same tree. Production of Carnauba derived materials have been dropping since the beginning of the 1970, especially due to the appearance of synthetic and Petroleum products. Nonetheless the production has increased in the beginning of 2000 and reached around 20,000 t of powder and around 2,500 t of wax, which has been sustained since then.
Carnauba economical activity includes the extraction and utilization of leaves, stem, tale and fibre, fruits and roots. These materials are all manufacturated into crafted and industrialized products. However, the powder used in wax production, is the most representative part of the plant due to great market interest. The production of Carnauba is mainly found in Northeastern Brazil, especially in the Rio Grande do Norte state (5%), Ceará state (35%) and in Piauí state (45%). Brazil is the only exporting country, and the main importers are Japan, United States and also Europe.
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