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What is carnauba?

By Chelsie Vandaveer

March 2, 2004

Suggested Reading – Plus The Inventors & Edison Effect: Click here.

The carnaubeira or carnauba palm (Copernicia prunifera (Miller) H.E. Moore) is native to northeastern Brazil. The palm grows to about 14 meters (45 feet) in height; the leaves bases are retained on the trunk giving it a spiraled appearance. The fronds (leaves) have a petiole about one meter in length; the blade is almost round with its edge divided into 40 to 60 segments.

The carnauba palm fronds are protected on both surfaces from drying by a thick cuticle of wax. The wax is unique; it is the hardest of all the natural waxes. It does not become cloudy or hazy and it provides a beautiful shine. Although the palm can grow in many locations, in northeastern Brazil it produces the best carnauba wax.

Fireside Phonograph - Click Image To Buy this Art Print at

Fireside Phonograph by  April S. White
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The wax does not need any special chemistry to separate it from the frond. The fronds are cut from the palm and may be chopped into pieces. The fronds are allowed to dry and then beaten. The wax flakes off. The flakes are formed into blocks for shipping to manufacturers.

Known as the finest of car polishes, carnauba does not react with dried paint and protects the car's finish by resisting dirt and pollutants, refracting UV radiation, and sealing the paint away from moisture and corrosives. But carnauba is in numerous products used every day. Carnauba is the base of fine furniture polish and hardwood floor wax, the coating used to make paper cups and cardboard water resistant, is the shine and protection in shoe polishes and waxes, and allows the dental floss to slide easier between the teeth.

Carnauba prevents the loss of water from the palm frond; it also prevents skin from drying and chapping in the wind. It is in lip balm and lipstick, added to lotions, and makes makeup easier to apply. It keeps eye and lip liners shiny and fresh-looking. A thin coat of the wax prevents apples and other fruit from drying and slows spoilage. Carnauba makes candies like jelly beans gleam. It even changed the way we heard the world. Carnauba was the wax of the wax cylinders that made the very first audio recordings.

(Compiled from: "Copernicia", Hortus Third, Staff of L.H. Bailey Hortorium, New York State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Cornell University, MacMillan, NY, 1976; Palms and Cycads of the World, Lynette Stewart, Angus & Robertson Publication, 1994; and DriveWerks)

The Palm and Cycad Societies of Australia have photographs of and some interesting information about the carnauba palm. To view the page, click on the link:


Suggested Reading:

What palm produces ivory? Weird Plants - May 13, 2004
What is a toddy? What's in a Name? - January 2, 2004
What palm has more uses than any other plant? Plants that Changed History - November 20, 2001
What was the drunken date palm? Herbal Folklore - December 29, 2003
How was the spiny gru-gru utilized? Herbal Folklore - January 3, 2005

The Inventors

A&E/The History Channel®

One illuminated America. The other put the nation on the road. Thomas Edison and Henry Ford transformed the world with their inventions. They shared a friendship that spanned decades. And the fortunes they made allowed them to create remarkable homes and estates. [Tell me more...]

Edison Effect set     

Edison Effect set

A&E/The History Channel®

The phonograph, the motion picture, and the electric light life in the modern world would be unthinkable without the inventions of Thomas Alva Edison. How did a man with only three months of formal schooling literally change the way we live? [Tell me more...]

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