The Coconut Tree - Introduction

A treasure for mankind

Origin

Photo: A coconut tree in Khanom

The coconut tree (Cocos nucifera), exists about 55 million years and is the only one of its genus [1]. Todays findings suggest that it is native to the large indo-pacific area [2].

History and data shows that the plant has been cultivated for at least 2500 years and that it was even long before closely intertwined with human fate in tropic regions. Today it is believed that indian coastal areas and the malayan peninsula are the origin of coconut cultivation [2].

The term ‘coco’ comes from spanish or portugiese and can be derived from the ancient greek word k√≥kkos which means berry or pip.

Appearance

In contrast to leaved trees, palms do not branch and their stems keep roughly the same diameter throughout their whole life exept the base of the stem which is slightly broader. The top of the palm tree is the growing part and has about 30 leaves on top that can reach up to seven meters length.

The height of adult trees can vary strongly with type and location, while 25 meters are not unuasually tall excluding dwarf variations. The leaves are feathered reducing air resistance and so the trees can even withstand strong seawinds. Additionally, the wood gains flexibility towards the top of the stem, so that it can move with the wind. The roots about a pencil in diameter can grow up to seven meters down the earth providing stability and in most cases access to ground water

Flowers and fruits

Flowers
Foto: Coconut flowers

Above approximately six years age the tree can gradually have flowers and grow fruits. At the same time, about 40 large female and plenty of smaller male flowers are grown fertilisation is done by by wind or insects. Normally the trees are cross-pollinated but self-pollinating varietis exist.

Fruits
Photo: Coconuts on the tree

Coconut trees can have fruits througout the year, so usually the trees show several nuts in different states of development. The plants ability to bear fruits can remain from 15 up to 80 years.

The fruits white flesh is consisting of three joint carpels. Protected by three layers, the nut survives even harsh conditions, up to 100 days in open sea before starting to rot. The outer layer is thin and leathery, the next is thick, fibrous and containing air, while the third layer next to the white flesh is the typical hard, dark brown shell we now.

Every nut has three dark spots which look like a face. They are the germinating spots and softer than the shell. So they can be opened to access the water inside the nut without cracking it.

Habitat

Sandy or muddy ground in coastal areas and estuaries comprises the normal terrain coconut palms grow in. Preferably the soil is not too dense, rich of nutrients and deep. The grounds pH-value may vary depending on variety, from acidic to alkaline. The tree is very tolerant to high salinity with about 0,5% compared to 3,5% in seawater.

The coconut tree is not as productive as the oil palm and therefore, has less capability of depleting soils when receiving good care.

Significance

As a portable source of water and nutrition with unique properties, coconuts have played a key role in humanities success in tropic regions. Coconuts allowed the establishment of trade roots and new colonisations.

Hundreds of uses are known, beginning with providing water supplies, growing food, healing remedies, fibers, construction material, coal, up to oil that is used as a food, for cooking, skin care, medicines, technical applications and production of biofuel.

Today, 89 countries grow over 29 million acres of coconut trees [2].

References

1.

Shukla A, Mehrotra RC, Guleria JS (2012) Cocos sahnii Kaul: a Cocos nucifera L.-like fruit from the Early Eocene rainforest of Rajasthan, western India., J Biosci. 2012 Sep;37(4):769-76. (Auf Researchgate lesen)

2.

Gunn BF, Baudouin L, Olsen KM (2011) Independent Origins of Cultivated Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.) in the Old World Tropics (Auf Researchgate lesen)