Rattan is the name for roughly 600 species of palms native to tropical regions of Africa, Asia and Australasia. They are not trees but are vine-like, scrambling through and over other vegetation. Unlike bamboo, rattan stems are solid. Most species need structural support and cannot stand on their own. Many rattans have spines which act as hooks to aid climbing over other plants, and to deter herbivores.
Rattans are extensively used for making furniture and baskets. When cut into sections, rattan can be used as wood to make furniture. Rattan accepts paints and stains like many other kinds of wood, is available in many colors, and can be worked into many styles. Moreover, the inner core can be separated and worked into wicker.
Along with birch and bamboo, rattan is a common material used for the handles in percussion mallets, especially mallets for keyboard percussion. The fruit of some rattans exudes a red resin called dragon’s blood. This resin was thought to have medicinal properties in antiquity and was also used as a dye for violins.
In early 2010, scientists in Italy announced that rattan would be used in a new process for the production of artificial bone. The wood is heated under intense pressure with calcium and carbon, and a phosphate solution is introduced. The process produces almost an exact replica of bone material. It has been tested in sheep and there had been no signs of rejection.
In forests where rattan grows, its economic value can help protect forest land by providing an alternative to loggers who forgo timber logging and harvest rattan canes instead. Rattan is easier to harvest, requires simpler tools and is much easier to transport. It also grows much faster than most tropical wood. This makes it a potential tool in forest maintenance since it provides a profitable crop that depends on rather than depletes trees.