Rattan (from the Malay and Indonesian word rotan) is a palm in the tribe Calameae. The term rattan usually refers to the material obtained from the stems of rattan palms. Rattan is native to the tropical regions of Africa, Asia and Australasia, and grows vine-like, scrambling through and over other vegetation.
Rattans are climbing palms. In the tropical rainforest, most of the time they wait as little palms on the forest floor. When trees fall creating a gap in the canopy, the increased light streaming down transforms them into climbing mode. Their spiny tendrils catch onto supporting trees to pull the rattan up. As they grow on, the vines often become too heavy for the support and fall back in large loops, only to claw back up again.
Rattan vines can grow up to a length of 200 metres (220 yd) from root to tip. To get water to their leaves high in the canopy, they have to be efficient pumps, moving water up their canes at rates of a metre per minute.
Rattan material is cylindric, lightweight, and yellowish-beige or light brown colored. Its main difference to other canes such as bamboo is that rattan is spongy-solid, not hollow, and very flexible. It is the special flexibility of rattan that makes it popular for a multitude of uses.
There are roughly 600 species of rattan, but only a few species are used commercially. Commercially harvested and processed rattan comes in diameters from a few millimeters up to 5–7 cm (2.0–2.8 ″) and is mainly produced in Southeast Asia. Most (70%) of the world's rattan population exists in Indonesia. The rest of the world's supply comes from the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Bangladesh.
After harvesting, rattan is usually peeled to create a smooth surface and to remove the spines that some species have; in further processing, it is cut to the desired lengths. It is used for making furniture, baskets, carpet beaters, walking canes, staves for martial arts, and various other uses. Rattan can be painted, like wood, but usually it is only transparently varnished to keep the natural look of the product.
Canes are made from rattan for use as instruments of corporal punishment (see caning). The flexibility of rattan makes it an ideal material for making canes as compared to other materials such as bamboo, which is rigid and breaks easily.
Rattan canes have been used for school corporal punishment mainly in British Commonwealth countries like India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand, and also in Britain. They are still used for judicial corporal punishment in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.