Abstract Edible shoots of rattans are traditionally viewed as non timber forest products. However, in Thailand and Lao PDR (Laos) several shoot-bearing species have recently been adopted as crop plants. This new industry is little known outside the region. A description is given of the process of adoption and the characteristics of the species involved, focussing on Calamus tenuis Roxb., the main species planted in Laos. Likely factors triggering domestication and some probable future developments are outlined. It is suggested that other wild species in the region are also likely to be suitable for domestication, and that this example lends weight to arguments in favor of conserving wild species. The implications of market competition between wild-harvested and farm-grown shoots are discussed.