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Coconut Palm Trees

 

 

Coconut Palms (Cocos nucifera)

Conservation status

Secure

Scientific classification

Kingdom:

Plantae

Division:

Magnoliophyta

Class:

Liliopsida

Order:

Arecales

Family:

Arecaceae

Subfamily:

Arecoideae

Tribe:

Cocoeae

Genus:

Cocos

Species:

C. nucifera

Binomial name

Cocos nucifera
L.

 

Coconut germinating on Black Sand Beach, Island of Hawaii

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. An alternate spelling is cocoanut.

The coconut palm is grown throughout the tropical world, for decoration as well as for its many culinary and non-culinary uses; virtually every part of the coconut palm has some human uses.

 

Origins and cultivation

 

The coconut tree.

he origins of this plant are the subject of controversy, with most authorities claiming it is native to South Asia (particularly the Ganges Delta), while others claim its origin is in northwestern South America. Fossil records from New Zealand indicate that small, coconut-like plants grew there as long as 15 million years ago. Even older fossils have been uncovered in Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra, (India) and the oldest known so far in Khulna, Bangladesh. 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 (and 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. They are now ubiquitous to most of the planet between 26N and 26S. The coconut palm thrives on sandy soils and is highly tolerant of salinity. It prefers areas with abundant sunlight and regular rainfall (1,500 to 2,500 mm annually), which makes colonizing shorelines of the tropics relatively straightforward.[1] Coconuts also need high humidity (7080%+) for optimum growth, which is why they are rarely seen in areas with low humidity, like the Mediterranean, even where temperatures are high enough (regularly above 24C). They are very hard to establish in dry climates and cannot grow there without frequent irrigation; in drought conditions, the new leaves do not open well, and older leaves may become desiccated; fruit also tends to be shed.[1] They may grow but not fruit properly in areas where there is not sufficient warmth, like Bermuda.

Coconut palms require warm conditions for successful growth, and are intolerant of cold weather. Optimum growth is with a mean annual temperature of 27C(80.6F), and growth is reduced below 21C(69.8F). Some seasonal variation is tolerated, with good growth where mean summer temperatures are between 2837 C(82.4-98.6 F), and survival as long as winter temperatures are above 412 C(39.2-53.6 F); they will survive brief drops to 0 C(32F). Severe frost is usually fatal, although they have been known to recover from temperatures of -4 C(24.8F).[1]

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.

 Pests and diseases

Main article: List of coconut palm diseases

 

Coconuts affected by eriophyid mites, at Taliparamba, Kannur, Kerala, India.

Coconuts are susceptible to the phytoplasma disease lethal yellowing. One recently selected cultivar, 'Maypan', has been bred for resistance to this disease. The fruit may also be damaged by eriophyid mites. The coconut is also used as a food plant by the larvae of many Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) species, including the following Batrachedra spp: B. arenosella, B. atriloqua (feeds exclusively on Cocos nucifera), B. mathesoni (feeds exclusively on Cocos nucifera), and B. nuciferae.

Brontispa longissima (the "Coconut leaf beetle") feeds on young leaves and damages seedlings and mature coconut palms. On September 27, 2007, Philippines' Metro Manila and 26 provinces were quarantined due to having been infested with this pest (to save the $800-million Philippine coconut industry).[2]

 Growing in the United States

The only two states in the U.S. where coconut palms can be grown and reproduced outdoors without irrigation are Hawaii and Florida. Coconut palms will grow from Bradenton southwards on Florida's west coast and Melbourne southwards on Florida's east coast. The occasional coconut palm is seen north of these areas in favoured microclimates in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area and around Cape Canaveral. They may likewise be grown in favoured microclimates in the Rio Grande Valley area of Deep South Texas near Brownsville and on Galveston Island. They may reach fruiting maturity, but are damaged or killed by the occasional winter freezes in these areas. While coconut palms flourish in south Florida, unusually bitter cold snaps can kill or injure coconut palms there as well. Only the Florida Keys and the coastlines provide safe havens from the cold as far as growing coconut palms on the U.S. mainland.

The farthest north in the United States a coconut palm has been known to grow outdoors is in Newport Beach, California along the Pacific Coast Highway. In order for coconut palms to survive in Southern California they need sandy soil and minimal water in the winter to prevent root rot, and would benefit from root heating coils.

 Production

Indonesia is the world leader in coconut production followed closely by the exponentially increasing product of the Philippines. Then, in a distant third India.

 The fruit

Coconut, meat, raw
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)

Energy 350 kcal   1480 kJ

 

Carbohydrates    

15.23 g

- Sugars  6.23 g

 

- Dietary fibre  9.0 g  

 

Fat

33.49 g

- saturated  29.70 g

 

- monounsaturated  1.43 g  

 

- polyunsaturated  0.37 g  

 

Protein

3.3 g

Thiamin (Vit. B1)  0.066 mg  

5%

Riboflavin (Vit. B2)  0.02 mg  

1%

Niacin (Vit. B3)  0.54 mg  

4%

Pantothenic acid (B5)  0.300 mg 

6%

Vitamin B6  0.054 mg

4%

Folate (Vit. B9)  26 μg 

7%

Vitamin C  3.3 mg

6%

Calcium  14 mg

1%

Iron  2.43 mg

19%

Magnesium  32 mg

9% 

Phosphorus  113 mg

16%

Potassium  356 mg  

8%

Zinc  1.1 mg

11%

 

Percentages are relative to US
recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient database

 

Botanically, a coconut is a simple dry nut known as a fibrous drupe. The husk, or mesocarp, is composed of fibres called coir and there is an inner stone, or endocarp. The endocarp is the hardest part. This hard endocarp, the outside of 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. Adhering to the inside wall of the endocarp is the testa, with a thick albuminous endosperm (the coconut "meat"), the white and fleshy edible part of the seed.

Although coconut meat contains less fat than other dry nuts such as peanuts and almonds, it is noted for its high amount of saturated fat.[3] Approximately 90% of the fat found in coconut meat is saturated, a proportion exceeding that of foods such as lard, butter, and tallow. However, there has been some debate as to whether or not the saturated fat in coconuts is healthier than the saturated fat found in other foods (see coconut oil for more information). Coconut meat also contains less sugar and more protein than popular fruits such as bananas, apples and oranges, and it is relatively high in minerals such as iron, phosphorus and zinc.

The endosperm surrounds a hollow interior space, filled with air and often a liquid referred to as coconut water, not to be confused with coconut milk. Coconut milk, called "santan" in Malay, is made by grating the endosperm and mixing it with (warm) water. The resulting thick, white liquid is used in much Asian cooking, for example, in curries. Coconut water from the unripe coconut, however, can be drunk fresh. Young coconuts used for coconut water are called tender coconuts. The water of a tender coconut is liquid endosperm. It is sweet (mild) with aerated feel when cut fresh. Depending on the size a tender coconut could contain the liquid in the range of 300 to 1,000 ml. It is known in Tamil/Malayalam/Kannada as "elaneer".

When viewed on end, the endocarp and germination pores give the fruit the appearance of a coco (also Cca), a Portuguese word for a scary witch from Portuguese folklore, that used to be represented as a carved vegetable lantern, hence the name of the fruit.[4] The specific name nucifera is Latin for nut-bearing.

When the coconut is still green, the endosperm inside is thin and tender, often eaten as a snack. But the main reason to pick the nut at this stage is to drink its water; a big nut contains up to one liter.

A mature coconut's interior

The meat in a young coconut is softer and more like gelatin than a mature coconut, so much so, that it is sometimes known as coconut jelly. When the nut has ripened and the outer husk has turned brown, a few months later, it will fall from the palm of its own accord. At that time the endosperm has thickened and hardened, while the coconut water has become somewhat bitter.

 

Coconuts sundried in Kozhikode, Kerala for making copra, which is used for making coconut oil

When the nut is still green the husk is very hard, but green nuts only fall if they have been attacked by moulds, etc. By the time the nut naturally falls, the husk has become brown, the coir has become drier and softer, and the nut is less likely to cause damage when it drops. Still, there have been instances of coconuts falling from palms and injuring people, and claims of some fatalities. This 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; the claim is often made that a person is more likely to be killed by a falling coconut than by a shark. However, there is no evidence of people being killed in this manner.[5] However William Wyatt Gill, an early LMS missionary on Mangaia recorded a story in which Kaiara, the concubine of King Tetui, was killed by a falling green nut. The offending palm was immediately cut down. This was around 1777, the time of Captain Cook's visit.

In some parts of the world, trained pig-tailed macaques are used to harvest coconuts. Training schools for pig-tailed macaques still exist both in southern Thailand and in the Malaysian state of Kelantan.[6] Competitions are held each year to find the fastest harvester.

 The shell

Coconut shell compound

(dry basis)

Compound

Percent

 

 

 

Cellulose

33.61

 

 

 

Lignin

36.51

 

 

 

Pentosans

29.27

 

 

 

Ash

0.61

 

 

 

Source: Jasper Guy Woodroof (1979). "Coconuts: Production, Processing, Products". 2nd ed. AVI Publishing Co. Inc.

 

 

 


Coconut shell ash compound

Compound

Percent

 

 

 

K2O

45.01

 

 

 

Na2O

15.42

 

 

 

CaO

6.26

 

 

 

MgO

1.32

 

 

 

Fe2O3 + Al2O3

1.39

 

 

 

P2O5

4.64

 

 

 

SO3

5.75

 

 

 

SiO2

4.64

 

 

 

Source: Jasper Guy Woodroof (1979). "Coconuts: Production, Processing, Products". 2nd ed. AVI Publishing Co. Inc.

 

 

 


Uses

Nearly all parts of the coconut palm are useful, and the palms have a comparatively high yield, up to 75 fruits 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". In the Philippines, the coconut is commonly given the title "Tree of Life".[7] It its theorised that if you were to become stranded on a desert island populated by palm trees, you could survive purely on the tree and coconut alone, as the coconut provides all of the required natural properties for survival.

A relatively young coconut which has been served in a hawker centre in Singapore with a straw with which to drink its coconut water.

Uses of the various parts of the palm include:

 Culinary

Non-culinary

Gelugu (coconut wood) in Klaten, Java

 References

  1. ^ a b c Species Profiles for Pacific Island Agroforestry: Cocos nucifera (pdf file)
  2. ^ Inquirer.net, Beetles infest coconuts in Manila, 26 provinces
  3. ^ Nutrition Facts and Information for Vegetable oil, coconut
  4. ^ Figueiredo, Cndido. Pequeno Dicionrio da Lingua Portuguesa. Livraria Bertrand. Lisboa 1940. (in Portuguese)
  5. ^ Are 150 people killed each year by falling coconuts? The Straight Dope, 19 July 2002. Retrieved 19 October 2006.
  6. ^ Training without Reward: Traditional Training of Pig-Tailed Macaques as Coconut Harvesters, Mireille Bertrand, Science 27 January 1967: Vol. 155. no. 3761, pp. 484 - 486
  7. ^ Fife, Bruce (2005). Coconut Cures. Piccadilly Books, Ltd., 17. ISBN 0941599604. Retrieved on 2008-04-04.
  8. ^ Data sheet about delta-decalactone and its properties: http://www.thegoodscentscompany.com/data/rw1013411.html
  9. ^ Campbell-Falck D, Thomas T, Falck TM, Tutuo N, Clem K (2000). "The intravenous use of coconut water". Am J Emerg Med 18 (1): 10811. PMID 10674546.
  10. ^ Direct Micro Expelling of Extra Virgin Coconut Oil, Kokonut Pacific Pty Ltd, accessed 4 January 2008
  11. ^ Corporal punishment on the Solomon Islands

Cocos nucifera

 

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