F.W.H.A.von Humboldt, A.J.A. Bonpland & C.S. Kunth, Nov. Gen. Sp. 1: 309 (1816)

Large to very large, monoecious or functionally dioecious palms. Stem solitary, clean or with persistent leaf bases. Leaves pinnate; pinnae regularly inserted or grouped, spreading in one or several planes, erect or more or less pendulous, with prominent cross veins, conspicuous subapical folding marks, and asymetrical apex, particularly in young specimens. Inflorescences large, elongate, once branched, either pure male, predominantly female, or bisexual, and then with flowers arranged in groups of one female and two males, at least on the proximal part of the branches. Male flowers with 3 free sepals and 3 free, variously shaped petals, 6 stamens, and a small pistillode. Female flowers with 3 free sepals and 3 free, strongly imbricate petals, a staminodial ring or tube, and an ovary formed by 3-7 united carpels. Infructescence compact, cylindrical, overhung by a large, persistent, boat shaped, peduncular bract. Fruits elliptical, 5-10 cm long, with a bony endocarp with three basal germination pores.

and diversity:
Around 30 species distributed from Central America to Bolivia, in dry and moist forest below 600 m elevation.

The genus is defined by having the combination of fruits with a bony endocarp with three basal germination pores, and unisexual or predominantly unisexual inflorescences. As such, Attalea encompass a large variation, especially in male flower morphology, which in ealier clasifications gave rise to the recognition of four distinct genera. The genus contains, however, at least six subgeneric groupings that presently are treated as one genus. Hybridization between species have been reported in several cases