Palms have some of the widest leaves of any plants, and this is no accident. Larger leaves serve a dual purpose of absorbing more sunlight for rapid growth in wet tropical areas, and also of providing the base of the plant/tree with shade to cool it off and minimize water loss due to the high temperatures of the environments they enjoy.
The leaves do have the downside of providing more surface area for water loss, so such plants are usually only found in wetter climates where they can quickly replace lost water.
In Panama people use parts of the leaves and palm stems to make long strains of the fiber. They then weave these into sombreros, or the traditional Panama Hat.
Palm leaves have also been used as shade and as roofing for houses in the tropics.
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