Rattan (from the Malay language|Malay rotan), is the name for the roughly six hundred species of Arecaceae|palms in the tribe Calameae, native to tropical regions of Africa, Asia and Australasia. Most rattans are distinct from other palms in having slender stems 2-5 cm diameter with long internode (botany)|internodes between the leaf|leaves; their consequent growth habit also differs, not being trees but vine-like, scrambling through and over other vegetation. They are also superficially similar to bamboo, but distinct in that the stems are solid, rather than hollow, and also in their need for some sort of support; while bamboo can grow on its own, rattan cannot. Some genera (e.g. Metroxylon, Pigafetta, Raphia) are however more like typical palms, with stouter, erect trunks. Many rattans are also spine (biology)|spiny, the spines acting as hooks to aid climbing over other plants, and also to deter herbivores. Rattan have been known to grow up to hundreds of metres long. Most (70%) of the world's rattan population exist in Indonesia, distributed among Borneo, Celebes, Sumbawa islands. The rest of the world's supply comes from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Bangladesh.
In the 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 much easier to harvest, requiring simpler tools and also much easier to transport. Further more, compared to most tropical wood, rattan is much faster growing.
Generally, raw rattan is processed into several products to be used as materials in furniture making. The various species of rattan ranges from several millimetres up to 5-7 cm in diameter. From a strand of rattan, the skin is usually peeled off, to be used as rattan weaving material. The remaining "core" of the rattan can be used for various purposes in furniture making. Rattan is a very good material mainly because it is lightweight, durable, and flexible to a certain extent.
Rattans are extensively used for making furniture and baskets. Cut into sections, rattan can be used as wood to make furniture. Rattan accepts paints and stains like wood, so it is available in many colours; and it can be worked into many styles. Moreover, the inner core can be separated and worked into wicker. This makes it a potential tool in forest maintenance, since it provides a profitable crop that depends on rather than replaces trees. Whether it can be as profitable or useful as the alternatives, however, remains to be seen.
Due to its durability, sections of rattan can be used as staves or canes for martial arts, rattan sticks 70 cm long are used in Filipino Martial Arts tournaments. Rattan is also used in the construction of weapons in Society for Creative Anachronismmartial combat.
Along with birch and bamboo, rattan is a common material used for the handles in percussion mallets, especially mallets for keyboard percussion (vibraphone, xylophone, marimba, etc.).
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, among other things . The resin normally results in a wood with a light peach hue.
Rattan canes are also a common choice for inflicting Pain and nociception|pain, in disciplinary, legal punishment, such as caning people, a form of punishment still popular in many countries such as Malaysia, Vietnam, Singapore, and Brunei. It can also be used for torture or for pleasure, as in BDSM contexts. It was a rattan cane that was used for the beating of Michael P. Fay in 1994.
Strokes from rattan cane are particularly painful, and because they often cut into the Periosteum|periosteum of bones of the spinal column, they usually leave the victim with severe pain in their back and limited motion for the rest of their life.