Rattan refers to the specific material made from the long stems of climbing palm trees. These are often woven into furniture. Wicker refers to the specific weaving process. Furniture referred to as wicker can be made of materials such other plants or synthetic fibers.
Rattan can come from several varieties of palm trees of the subfamily Calamoideae, which have long vine-like stems. These palms grow in tropical areas, such as southeast Asia and parts of Africa. The stems of these palms are strong and flexible, making them ideal for weaving into wicker furniture and other goods. Once the vines have grown long enough to be woven, they are cut and shipped for manufacturing of wicker goods.
Rattan woven furniture became popular in the 1860s. The rattan was shipped from Asia, and the furniture was manufactured in America by the Wakefield Rattan company and competitors.
Wicker is short for wickerwork. The root wicker refers to the slender flexible twig-like material used to weave this style of furniture. Wicker furniture can be made from a wider variety of materials than rattan. Any pliable vine-like or synthetic material can be woven into wicker.
The weaving style known as wicker is relatively tight and resembles a basket. Wicker is often used to make furniture or other decorative items.