The coco de mer (Lodoicea maldivica), the sole member of the genus Lodoicea, is a palm endemic to the islands of Praslin and Curieuse in the Seychelles. It formerly also occurred on St Pierre, Chauve-Souris and Ile Ronde (Praslin) in the Seychelles group but has become extinct on these islands.
It grows to 25-34 m tall. The leaves are fan-shaped, 7-10 m long and 4.5 m wide with a 4 m petiole. It is dioecious, with separate male and female plants. The male flowers are catkin-like, up to 1 m long. The mature fruit is 40-50 cm in diameter and weighs 15-30 kg, and contains the largest seed in the plant kingdom. The fruit, which requires 6-7 years to mature and a further two years to germinate, is sometimes also referred to as the sea coconut, double coconut, coco fesse, or Seychelles nut.
Formerly the coco de mer was known as Maldive coconut. Its scientific name, Lodoicea maldivica, originated before the 18th century when the Seychelles were uninhabited. In centuries past the coconuts that fell from the trees and ended up in the sea would be carried away westwards by the prevailing sea currents. In this way many drifted to the Maldives where they were gathered from the beaches and valued as an important trade and medicinal item.
Legend has it that sailors who first saw the nut floating in the sea imagined that it resembled a woman's disembodied buttocks; the nuts, however, do not float. This fanciful association is reflected in one of the plant's archaic botanical names, Lodoicea callipyge Comm. ex J. St.-Hil., in which callipyge is from Greek words meaning 'beautiful rump'. Other botanical names used in the past include Lodoicea sechellarum Labill. and Lodoicea sonneratii (Giseke) Baill.
Until the true source of nut was discovered in 1768, it was believed by many to grow on a mythical tree at the bottom of the sea; European nobles in the sixteenth century would often have the shells of these nuts cleaned and decorated with valuable jewels as collectibles for their private galleries. The coco de mer is now a rare protected species.
The species is grown as an ornamental tree in many areas in the tropics, and subsidiary populations have been established on Mahé and Silhouette Islands in the Seychelles to help conserve the species.
The coco de mer belongs to the Coryphoidae subfamily and tribe Borasseae. Borasseae is represented by four genera in Madagascar and one in Seychelles out of the seven worldwide. They are distributed on the coastlands surrounding the Indian ocean and the existing islands within. Borassus, the genus closest to Lodoicea, has about five species in the "old world," one species in Africa, one in India, South-East Asia and Malaysia, one in New Guinea and two species in Madagascar (Uhl and Dransfield, 1987).
The coco de mer is the most interesting species of the six monospecific endemic palms in Seychelles since it is the "only true case of island gigantism among Seychelles flowering plants, a unique feature of Seychelles vegetation" (Proctor, 1984). It is one of the most universally well-known plants and holds three botanical records; the largest fruit so far recorded weighed 42 kg; the mature seeds weighing up to 17.6 kg are the world's heaviest (Uhl and Dransfield, 1987; Wise, 1998; Carlstrom, unpublished) and the female flowers are the largest of any palm (Uhl and Dransfield, 1987; Wise, 1998).
Of the six endemic palms it is the only dioecious species, with male and female flowers located on different plants. A selective review of the biology of the species was recently published by Edwards, Kollmann & Fleischmann (2002).
The coco de mer palm is robust, solitary, up to 30 m tall with an erect, spineless, stem which is ringed with leaf scars (Calstrom, unpublished). The base of the trunk is of a bulbous form and this bulb fits into a natural bowl, or socket, about 2.5 ft in diametre and 18 inches in depth, narrowing towards the bottom. This bowl is pierced with hundreds of small oval holes about the size of a thimble with hollow tubes corresponding on the outside through which the roots penetrate the ground on all sides, never, however, becoming attached to the bowl; their partial elasticity, affording an almost imperceptible but very necessary "play" to the parent stem when struggling against the force of violent gales.
The inflorescences are interfoliar, lacking a covering spathe and shorter that the leaves. The staminate inflorescence is catkin-like, one to two metres long and generally terminal and solitary, sometimes two or three catkins may be present. The pistillate inflorescences are also one to two metres long unbranched and the flowers are borne on a zig-zagging rachilla (Wise, 1998).
The fruit is bilobed, flattened, 40 to 50 cm long ovoid and pointed, and contains usually one but occasionally two to four seeds. The epicarp is smooth and the mesocarp is fibrous. The endosperm is thick, relatively hard, hollow and homogenous. The embryo sits in the sinus between the two lobes. During germination a tubular cotyledonary petiole develops that connects the young plant to the seed. The length of the tube is reported to reach about four metres (Uhl and Dransfield, 1987). Beaver and Chong Seng (1992) state that in the Vallee de Mai the tube may be up to 10 m long.
The Seychelles nut was once believed to be a sea-bean or drift seed, a seed designed to be dispersed by the sea. However, it is now known that the viable nut is too heavy to float, and only rotted out nuts can be found on the sea surface, thus explaining why the trees are limited in range to just two islands.
The right mix on the menu: Clare Williams of Tempelmere spoke to representatives from Select Service Partner and Oslo Airport regarding the importance of creating the right balance. (Retail).
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