Deciduous forests, composed of trees which shed their leaves periodically, occur in those parts of Bali where there is a prolonged dry season of several months’ duration. This is mainly on the northern side of the central mountain range and the terrain becomes increasingly drier and subject to drought as one heads towards the northeastern corner of the island. The trees which grow in these dry areas have necessarily developed deep root systems and are much smaller in stature than in rainforests—few reach above 25 metres. At ground level, annual plant species with underground tubers are common, while many plants have haves and stems covered an spines or thorns to protect them from the predations of grazing herbivores.The coastal savanna forests of northwest Bali are characterised by the flat-topped crowns of Acacia trees, interspersed with lontar palms (Borassusflabellifer). The northeastern part of the island, however, is much drier because the rainfall percolates rapidly through the ash—cinder soil laid down by successive eruptions of Gunung Agung. Here, the deciduous forests have given way to a savanna vegetation consisting of extensive grasslands with a discontinuous tree layer dominated by the ubiquitous Iontar palm. Common Deciduous Species Leguminous species, that is, pod bearing trees and plants such Albizia, Acacia and Cassia, are common in the arid northeast. Many of these species are dormant during the driest months, suspending their growth until the arrival of the seasonal rains. When the latter break, there is a sudden burst of floral activity which results in the overnight appearance of a mass of flowers and foliage that dress the forest from floor to canopy.
The kapok tree, with its distinctive horizontal branches, is another common feature of Bali’s drier regions. Between October and November, the branches hang heavy with pods, each bearing tufts of white, fluffy fibres,like cotton wool, which are used tostuff mattresses and pillows.
Two Species of Palm
The deciduous forests of Bali are dominated by two rather similarlooking palm species—the lontur palm (Bomssusflabellifer) and Coryphautan. The latter is the larger of the two species, with leaves that can grow up to nearly 2 metres in diameter. The Iontar or palmvrapalm is the more common of the two species, especially in the drier, northern parts of the island where it is known as punyanental, It is distin- guished by its enormous fruit which can grow up to 18 centimetresin diameter.
Palm Wine and Sacred Manuscripts
In the northeast of Bali, the sap of thelontar palm is used t0 make an alcoholic beverage known as tuak. A cut is made in the growing tip of thespadix (the stalk bearing the flowers) and the ‘juice’ drawn off. A dash of last night’s tuak is then added to encourage fermentation, with different grades of alcohol being produced according to the length of the time allowed. Elsewhere in Bali, tuak is made from the sap of the coconut palm. The immature leaf blades of the Iontar palm were traditionally used as a writing material on which sacred Hindu and Buddhist texts were inscribed—the Indonesian word lontur is derived from the Javanese term for ‘word’, ron, combined with tala, meaning ‘leaves used for writing’. The dried fronds also serve as ready; rolled cigarette ‘papers’ .