The Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera L.), is a member of the Family Arecaceae (palm family). It is the only species classified in the genus Cocos, and is a large palm, growing to 30 m tall, with pinnate leaves 4-6 m long, with pinnae 60-90 cm long; old leaves fall cleanly leaving the trunk smooth. The term coconut refers to the fruit of the coconut palm.
The origins of this plant are the subject of debate with some authorities claiming it is native to the Southeast Asian peninsula 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 their origins coconuts have spread across much of the tropics, in particular along tropical shorelines. Since its fruit is light and buoyant the plant is readily spread by marine currents which can carry coconuts significant distances. The Coconut palm thrives on sandy, saline soils in areas with abundant sunlight and regular rainfall (75_100 cm annually), which makes colonising the shore relatively straightforward. Fruits collected from the sea as far north as Norway have been found to be viable and have subsequently germinated given the right conditions. However, 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.
Coconut palms on Martinique
Botanically speaking, a coconut is a simple dry fruit known as a fibrous drupe (not a nut). The husk (mesocarp) is fibrous and there is an inner "stone" (the endocarp). This hard endocarp (which is the "coconut" you find in the stores 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 coco.
All parts of the coconut palm, except perhaps for the roots, are useful, and the trees have a comparatively high yield (up to 75 "nuts" per year); it therefore has significant economic value. Indeed, the name for the coconut palm in Sanskrit is kalpa vriksha, which translates as "the tree which provides all the necessities of life". Uses of the various parts of the palm include:
- The white, fleshy part of the seed is edible and used fresh or dried (desiccated) in cooking;
- The cavity is filled with "coconut water" containing sugars which are used as a refreshing drink, and in the making of the gelatinous dessert Nata de Coco. Mature fruits have significantly less liquid than young coconuts. Coconut water is sterile until the coconut is opened (unless the coconut is spoiled);
- 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 fiber;
- Coconut cream is what rises to the top when coconut milk is refrigerated and left to set;
- The leftover fiber from coconut milk production is used as livestock feed;
- The sap derived from incising the flower clusters of the coconut form a drink known as "toddy" or, in the Philippines, tuba;
- Apical buds of adult plants are edible and are known as "palm_cabbage" (though harvest of this kills the tree);
- The interior of the growing tip is called heart_of_palm and is considered a rare delicacy. Harvesting this also kills the tree. Hearts of palm are normally eaten in salads; such a salad is sometimes called "millionaire's salad".
- Coir is the fiber from the husk of the coconut, used in ropes, mats, brushes, caulking boats and as stuffing fibre; it is also used extensively in horticulture for making potting compost
- Copra is the dried meat of the seed which is the source of coconut oil;
- The trunks provide building timbers;
- The leaves provide materials for baskets and roofing thatch;
- The husk and shells can be used for fuel and are a good source of charcoal;
- Hawaiians hollowed the trunk to form a drum, a container, or even small canoes.
- The wood can be used for specialized construction (notably in Manila's Coconut Palace).
- Coconut water is nearly identical to blood plasma and is known to have been used in emergency cases as an intravenous hydration fluid, when there is a lack of standard IV fluid. Researchers report that coconut water is high in potassium, chloride, and Indonesian tale of Hainuwele tells the story of the introduction of coconuts to Seram.
- Further information about coconuts (http://www.coconut-info.com/)