Coconut Palm: Cocos nucifera

Baurley, Thomas 11/26/2009 “Coconut Palm: Cocos nucifera”. Official web page: http://www.treeleavesoracle.org/treelore/?p=1347. © 2009 – Technogypsie Productions: Colorado Springs, Colorado. If you enjoy this article, please treat the author to a drink or donate to keep this article preserved online.


Coconut Trees, Big Island, Hawaii

Coconut Palm

Taxonomy: Plantae: Gymnospermae: Cycadopsida: Commelinids: Arecales: Arecaceae: Arecoideae: Cocoeae: Cocos nucifera. Common names: Nut, Coco, Coconut

Description: Most of the world is familiar with coconuts, the fruit and seed of which comes from the Coconut Palm. Its one of the ever-more popular icons of tropical beaches and regions, uninhabited islands, Florida, Hawaii, and the Bahamas. The Coconut Palm is part of the Palm Family (Arecaceae) and holds its only species. Its a large palm that can grow upwards of 30 meters tall with pinnate leaves 4-6 meters long and pinnae from 60-90 cm long. When the old leaves break away from the trunk it leaves it clean and smooth. A largely tropical decoration plant, it is also used throughout the world for cooking, health, refreshment, beverages, and manufacture. Every part of the Coconut Palm has a use. The fruit of the plant is light, buoyant, and highly water resistant making it very easy to propagate and spread across the world via the oceans and seas. The flowers of the plant are polygamomonoecious possessing both male and female flowers in the same inflorescence that occur continuously. The fruit of the tree is a coconut, within the inner surface of the shell, a ‘nut’ that is an edible endosperm containing coconut juice/milk that is sweet and/or salty. Botanically its a simply dry nut containing a husk (mesocarp) composed of fibers (coir) hosting an inner stone (endocarp) that is the hardest part of the nut which contains 3 germination pores visible on the outside surface once the husk is removed. Through these holes the radicle emerges when the embroyo germinates. The coconut meat is within the shell and consists of a white fleshy edible albuminous endosperm that is highly noted for its medium-chain saturated fat, containing less sugar and more protein than many popular fruits like bananas, apples, oranges, and is high in iron, phospherus, and zinc. In the hollow interior space of the nut is air and a liquid referred to as “coconut water”. When the coconut fruit is still green, the husk is very hard, and only fall if attacked by molds. When the fruit falls naturally, the husks become brown, coir is dry and soft, and less hazardous when it falls. Coconuts can be very damaging when they fall to people, automobiles, and houses. They have been known to cause fatalities.


Beware of falling coconuts, Kalapana Village, Big Island, Hawaii

History::

The exact origin of the “Coconut” is a controversy, ranging from scholars believing it to be native to South Asia while others claim it is from northwestern South American; Fossil evidence shows coconut plants in New Zealand from 15 million years ago; even older fossils in Kerala, Rajasthan, Thennai, and India. First referred to in the 2nd-1st c. B.C.E. in Sri Lanka. Coconuts were believed to be introduced to Hawaii by the Polynesians, to Europe by Portuguese sailors, etc. The name “coconut” came to be from the description of the brown and hairy surface of the nut that reminded the Portuguese explorers of a ghost or witch called “Coco”. Then Marco Polo in 1280 called it nux indica derived from the Arab’s name jauz-al-Hindi. The British retained the coco name and added “nut” to it.

Folklore and Magical beliefs::

Because of how the fruit appears, Portuguese travelers thought the fruit looked like “Coco” the scary witch from within their folklore, that used to be represented as a carved vegetable lantern. Coconut shell is sometimes used to ‘ward away the evil eye’ in South India. In the Philippines, dried half shells are used for a folk dance called the “maglalatik” for an musical instrument that demonstrates or tells the tale about conflicts about coconuts within the Spanish era. The Coconut is used often in rituals – with the Kaveri River worship in India it was seen as an essential element of several Hindu rituals where coconuts were decorated with bright metal foils. Often offered to Hindu God/desses, rivers, and seas in hopes of honor, tribute, or answers to prayers for successful/bountiful catches. In Hindu wedding rituals the coconut is placed over the opening of a pot (representing the womb) or breaking the coconut to ensure blessings as a successful completion of an activity or used in prayers. With Tantra sometimes coconuts are used to represent the human skull.


Coconut, Big Island, Hawaii

Culinary:

Everyone knows of coconut juice and coconut milk, but they are not one within the same. “Coconut Milk” is made by grating the coconut meat and mixing it with warm water; a process that creates a thick, white liquid used is Asian cooking, especially curries. Coconut water is the water within the coconut and is often served as a refreshing beverage, especially from young tender coconuts. Most coconuts contain approximately 300-1,000 ml of water and is sterile until opened. The young coconut meat is often called “coconut jelly” while the mature fruit its called “coconut meat”. Coconut oil is also derived from the meat for cooking and making margarine. The meat is often eaten raw, cooked, dried, or as a garnish. Young tender-coconuts are often pierced with a thick straw to drink the water from it directly since its a healthy beverage containing natural sugar, fiber, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. The water provides an isotonic electrolyte balance and is highly nutritious food source, beverage, cocktail (adding alcohol), and isotonic sports drink. Its used alot in desserts. The sap from incising the flower clusters is drunk as “neera” or fermented to produce “palm wine” also known as “toddy” or “tuba”. The sap can also be boiled down to create a sweet syrup or candy. Apical buds of the adult plants are edible and known as “palm-cabbage” or “heart of palm” as a rare delicacy since harvesting kills the palm plant. Hearts of palms are often added to salads. Newly germinated coconuts contain an edible fluff called “coconut sprout” that is also used in salads, cooking, and desserts.

Medicinal/Health:

Coconuts are a healthy source of natural sugar, fiber, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals such as thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, Folate, Vitamin C, Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, and Zinc. The oil is know to be good for the skin, teeth, mouth, and hair. Roots are used as a medicine for dysentery. Coconut is also commonly used as a traditional remedy in Pakistan to treat bites from rats. Coconut Oil is very beneficial for killing bacteria and uprooting infection in the mouth and teeth. A process called oil pulling is utilized by swishing a tablespoon of coconut oil in the mouth for 15-20 minutes then spitting out the oil afterwards (spittle contains the toxins it removed), 2-3 times a day. Some modern health advocates have replaced brushing teeth with this procedure.

Cultivation:

Coconut trees are best planted in sandy soils, abundant sunlight, and regular rainfall (150-250 cm annually). They are highly tolerant of salinity. They thrive in tropical and ocean environments, especially along shorelines. They need high humidity (70-80%) for optimal growth. They require warm conditions for successful growth and intolerant of cold weather (mean daily temperature above 12-13 degrees Celsius, daily).


Coconut sprouting in lava beds, Big Island, Hawaii

Uses:

The Name for the coconut palm in Sanskrit is “kalpa vriksha” which means “the tree which provides all the necessities of life” or in Malay as “pokok seribu guna” which means “the tree of a thousand uses”. All aspects of the plant is useful – food, building materials, medicine, health, beauty, crafts, and utilitarian. The husk is an excellent source for planting medium for many plants. The shell is often used in making buttons, musical instruments, bowls and other crafts. The shell and husk are often burn to repel mosquitoes. The fiber from the husk can be used to make mats, insulation, mats, brushes, stuffing fiber, potting compost, mattresses, caulking boats, and padding. The palm fronds or leaves can be used for roofing material, shingles, making brooms, baskets, thatch, mats, cooking skewers, kindling arrows, tongue-cleaners, sandals, sheds, or burnt for lime, charcoal, or fuel. Branches are good for thatches and switches. Sun dried they can be used for making copra or coconut oil. Coconut oil is used for making soaps, shampoos, conditioners, hand lotions, sun tanning oil, cooking, or lubricant. The Tree trunks can be used to make canoes/boats, small bridges, house construction, drums, containers, and creating “palm wood” which is an ecologically-sound substitute for endangered hardwoods. Roots are used as a toothbrush, a dye, a mouthwash, and a medicine for dysentery.


young coconuts, Kalapana Village, Big Island, Hawaii

Baurley, Thomas 11/26/2009 “Coconut Palm: Cocos nucifera”. Official web page: http://www.treeleavesoracle.org/treelore/?p=1347. © 2009 – Technogypsie Productions: Colorado Springs, Colorado. If you enjoy this article, please treat the author to a drink or donate to keep this article preserved online.

Bibliography/References:

  • Child, Reginald. “Coconuts”. 1974: London.
  • Dallapiccola, Anna. “Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend”.
  • Foale, M. “The Coconut Odyssey: the Bounteous Possibilities of the Tree of Life”; Australian Center for International Agricultural Research. 2003: Australia.
  • Web site: Palm Talk www.palmtalk.org
  • Web Site: Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coconut
  • Werth, E. “Origin and Cultivation of the Coconut Palm”. 1933.
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