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The Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera), is a member of the Family Arecaceae (palm family). It is the only species in the Genus Cocos, and is a large palm, growing to 30 m tall, with pinnate leaves 4-6 m long, pinnae 60-90 cm long; old leaves break away cleanly leaving the trunk smooth. The term coconut refers to the fruit of the coconut palm.

Origins and Cultivation

The origin of this plant are the subject of debate with some authorities claiming it is native to southeast Asia, while others claim its origin is in northwestern South America. Fossil records from New Zealand indicate that small, coconut-like plants grew there as far back 15 million years ago. Even older fossils have been uncovered in Rajasthan, India. Regardless of its origin, the coconut has spread across much of the tropics, probably aided in many cases by sea-faring peoples. The fruit is light and buoyant and presumably spread significant distances by marine currents: fruits collected from the sea as far north as Norway have been found to be viable (subsequently germinated under the right conditions). In the Hawaiian Islands, the coconut is regarded as a Polynesian introduction, first brought to the Islands by early Polynesian voyagers from their homelands in the South Pacific.

The coconut palm thrives on sandy soils and is highly tolerant of salinity and prefers areas with abundant sunlight and regular rainfall (750 to 2,000 mm annually), which makes colonising shorelines of the tropics relatively straight-forward. Coconuts also need high humidity (7080%+) for optimum growth, which is why they are rarely seen in areas with low humidity (e.g. the Mediterranean), even where temperatures are high enough. They are very hard to establish and grow in dry climates.

The flowers of the coconut palm are polygamomonoecious, with both male and female flowers in the same inflorescence. Flowering occurs continuously, with female flowers producing seeds. Coconut palms are believed to be largely cross-pollinated, although some dwarf varieties are self-pollinating.

The Fruit.  Botanically, a coconut is a simple dry fruit known as a fibrous drupe (not a true nut). The husk (mesocarp) is composed of fibres called coir and there is an inner "stone" (the endocarp). This hard endocarp (the coconut as sold in the shops of non-tropical countries) has three germination pores that are clearly visible on the outside surface once the husk is removed. It is through one of these that the radicle emerges when the embryo germinates. When viewed on end, the endocarp and germination pores resemble the face of a monkey, the Portuguese word for which is macaco, sometimes abbreviated to coco, whence the name of the fruit. The specific name nucifera is Latin for nut bearing.

How a fruit grow :

To open a coconut, remove the outer husk (if not purchased already removed) and pierce one of the three eyes of the fruit. Drain the juice from the fruit and place the coconut in a hot oven (approx. 250 Celsius) for ten minutes or until the outer shell cracks (smashing with a hammer after draining also works). Remove from the oven and break into pieces by tapping with a hammer. The coconut meat is easily removed with a sharp knife. Soak the white meat in cold water for five minutes.

Coconuts falling from trees have been known to cause fatalities, and was the subject of a paper published in 1984 that won the Ig Nobel Prize in 2001. Falling coconut deaths are often used as a comparison to shark attacks, making the claim that it is more likely to be killed by a falling coconut than by a shark (column from The Straight Dope).

In some parts of the world, trained monkeys are used to harvest coconuts. Training schools for monkeys still exist in southern Thailand. Competitions are held each year to discover the fastest harvester.


All parts of the coconut palm are useful, and the trees have a comparatively high yield (up to 75 "nuts" per year); it therefore has significant economic value. The name for the coconut palm in Sanskrit is kalpa vriksha, which translates as "the tree which provides all the necessities of life". In Malay, the coconut is known as pokok seribu guna, "the tree of a thousand uses".

Uses of the various parts of the palm include:

  1. The white, fleshy part of the seed is edible and used fresh or dried (desiccated) in cooking.
  2. The cavity is filled with "coconut water" containing sugars, fibre, proteins, anti-oxidants, vitamins and minerals, which provide excellent isotonic electrolyte balance, and an exceptional nutritional food source, which is why it is used as a refreshing drink throughout the humid tropics. It is also used in the making of the gelatinous dessert Nata de Coco. Mature fruits have significantly less liquid than young immature coconuts. Coconut water is sterile until the coconut is opened (unless the coconut is spoiled).
  3. Coconut milk (which is approximately 17% fat) is made by processing grated coconut with hot water or hot milk which extracts the oil and aromatic compounds from the fibre.
  4. Coconut cream is what rises to the top when coconut milk is refrigerated and left to set.
  5. The leftover fibre from coconut milk production is used as livestock feed.
  6. The sap derived from incising the flower clusters of the coconut form a drink known as "toddy" or, in the Philippines, tuba.
  7. Apical buds of adult plants are edible and are known as "palm-cabbage" (though harvest of this kills the tree).
  8. The interior of the growing tip may be harvested as heart-of-palm and is considered a rare delicacy. Harvesting this also kills the tree. Hearts of palm are often eaten in salads; such a salad is sometimes called "millionaire's salad".
  9. The coir (the fibre from the husk of the coconut) is used in ropes, mats, brushes, caulking boats and as stuffing fibre; it is also used extensively in horticulture for making potting compost.
  10. Copra is the dried meat of the seed which is the source of coconut oil.
  11. The trunks provide building timbers.
  12. The leaves provide materials for baskets and roofing thatch.
  13. The husk and shells can be used for fuel and are a good source of charcoal.
  14. Hawaiians hollowed the trunk to form a drum, a container, or even small canoes.
  15. The wood can be used for specialized construction (notably in Manila's Coconut Palace).
  16. Coconut sap is fermented to produce toddy.
  17. The stiff leaflet midribs make cooking skewers, kindling arrows, or bound into bundles, brooms and brushes.
  18. The roots are used as a dye, a mouthwash, or a medicine for dysentery. A frayed-out piece of root makes a poor man's toothbrush.
  19. Half coconut shells are used in theatres, banged together to create the sound effect of a horse hoofbeats.
  20. Dried half coconut shells are used to buff floors.
  21. In fairgrounds, a coconut shy is a popular target practice game, and coconuts are commonly given as prizes.
  22. A coconut can be hollowed out and used as a home for a rodent

Coconut in Hinduism

Coconuts are extensively used in Hindu religious rites. Coconuts are usually offered to the gods, and a coconut is smashed on the ground or on some object as part of an initiation or inauguration of building projects, facility, ship, etc., taking the place of Champagne in western culture.

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