The number of nuts varies; a well-cared-for tree may yield 75 to 200 or more annually. The mature fruit as it comes from the tree is encased in a thick, brown fibrous husk. The nut itself has a hard woody shell, with three round scars at one end; the embryo lies against the largest scar and emerges through it as a developing plant. Through this easily punctured spot the "milk" of the young coconut may be drained.
Its constantly growing commercial value has led to extensive cultivation of the coconut, especially in the Malay Archipelago, Sri Lanka, and India. The coco palm is one of the most useful trees in existence, every part of it having some value. The fruit, either ripe or unripe, raw or cooked, is a staple food in the tropics; the terminal bud, called palm cabbage, is considered a delicacy; the inner part of young stems is also eaten. The milk of the young nut is a nutritious drink. A sweet liquid obtained from the flower buds ferments readily and is used as a beverage, both when fresh and when distilled to make arrack; it may be boiled down to make various palm sugars, e.g., jaggery. The leaves are used for making fans, baskets, and thatch. The coir (coarse fibers obtained from the husk) is made into cordage, mats, and stuffing; it becomes more buoyant and elastic than hemp in saltwater. The hard shell and the husk are used for fuel. The fibrous center of the old trunk is also used for ropes, and the timber, known as porcupine wood, is hard and fine-grained and takes a high polish. From the nutshells are made containers of various kinds—cups, ladles, and bowls—often highly polished and ornamentally carved. The root is chewed as a narcotic.
Commercially the greatest value of the coconut lies in the oil, which is extracted from the dried kernels of the fruit. The nuts when ripe are apt to spoil or become rancid; therefore when they are gathered they are broken open, and the flesh is dried and exported under the name of copra. The oil content of copra ranges from 50% to 70%, depending upon the method of drying. Coconut oil, the major type of palm oil, has been extracted by mortar and pestle in Asia since antiquity; the coconut and the olive are the earliest recorded sources of vegetable oil. Primitive methods of drying and expressing the copra are giving way to modern machinery such as rotary driers and hydraulic presses. The residue, known as coco cake, makes excellent cattle food, as it usually contains a remnant of 6%-10% oil. Large quantities of shredded or desiccated coconut made from copra and many whole coconuts are exported for use chiefly in the making of cakes, desserts, and confectionery.
Coconuts are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Liliopsida, order Arecales, family Palmae.
Tree (Cocos nucifera) of the palm family, one of the most important crops of the tropics. Its slender, leaning, ringed trunk rises from a swollen base and is topped by a graceful crown of giant, feathery leaves. The large ovoid or ellipsoid mature fruits have a thick, fibrous husk surrounding the familiar single-seeded nut. The nut contains a white and somewhat sweet meat, which is eaten raw; coconut oil is extracted from the meat. The nutritious liquid “milk” at the centre may be drunk directly from the nut. The husk provides coir, a fibre highly resistant to salt water that is used in the manufacture of ropes, mats, baskets, brushes, and brooms. The nutshells are used as containers and often decoratively carved.
Learn more about coconut palm with a free trial on Britannica.com.
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 nut 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.
The coconut has spread across much of the tropics, probably aided in many cases by seafaring 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 26ºN and 26ºS.
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.
The 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 (Kerala means "land of coconut palms"), Maharashtra, (India) and the oldest known so far in Khulna, Bangladesh.
Coconut palms require warm conditions for successful growth, and are intolerant of cold weather. Optimum growth is with a mean annual temperature of 27°C(80.6°F), and growth is reduced below 21°C(69.8°F). Some seasonal variation is tolerated, with good growth where mean summer temperatures are between 28–37 °C (82.4-98.6 °F), and survival as long as winter temperatures are above 4–12 °C (39.2-53.6 °F); they will survive brief drops to 0 °C(32°F). Severe frost is usually fatal, although they have been known to recover from temperatures of -4 °C(24.8°F).
Plant densities in Vanuatu for copra production are generally 9 meter, allowing a tree density of 100-160 trees per hectare.
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).In Kerala the major pests of Coconut are the Eriophyid mite, the Rhinoceros Beetle, the Red Palm Weevil and the Coconut Leaf caterpillar. The Eriophyid mite (Eriophyes guerreronis )is devastating and can cause damages up to 90% in coconut production. The immature nuts are infested and desapped by staying in the portion covered by the Perianth of the immature nut. Subsequently the nuts drop off or survive deformed. Spraying with Wettable Sulfur 0.4 % alternately with neem based pesticides can give some relief, but is cumbersome and labour intensive. Research on this topic gave no results and the researchers from the Kerala Agricultural University and the Central Plantation Crop Research Institute, Kasaragode are searching in the dark.CPCRI Kayamkulam is another vying fund waster and ofcourse been silently watching the plantations stumbling before the menacing Root Wilt disease. The control for this disease is suggested to be DESTROYING the affected palm.
The only 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 as well as the Orlando-Kissimmee-Daytona Beach metro area. 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.
The main coconut producing area in the Middle East is the Dhofar region of Oman. Particular the area around Salalah maintains large coconut plantations similar to those found across the Arabian Sea.The large coconut grooves of Dhofar are already mentioned by the medieval Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta in his writings known as Al Rihla .This is possible due to an annual rainy season known locally as Khareef.Coconut are also increasingly grown for decorative purposes along the coasts of UAE and Saudi Arabia with the help of irrigation. The UAE has however imposed strict laws on mature coconut tree imports from other countries to reduce the spreading of pests that can spread to other native palm trees such as the date palm .
|Top Ten Coconut Producers — 2005|
|Country||Production (Int $1000)||Footnote||Production (MT)||Footnote|
|No symbol = official figure, F = FAO estimate, * = Unofficial figure, C = Calculated figure;|
Production in Int $1000 have been calculated based on 1999-2001 international prices
Source: Food And Agricultural Organization of United Nations: Economic And Social Department: The Statistical Devision
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 almonds, it is noted for its high amount of saturated fat. 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 Côca), 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. 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 fruit at this stage is to drink its water; a big coconut contains up to one liter. 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 coconut 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.
When the coconut fruit is still green the husk is very hard, but green coconuts only fall if they have been attacked by moulds, etc. By the time the coconut naturally falls, the husk has become brown, the coir has become drier and softer, and the coconut 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, yet, there is no evidence of people ever being killed in this manner. 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. Competitions are held each year to find the fastest harvester.
The shell composition is shown in the tables below.
|Coconut shell compound (dry basis)|
|Source: Jasper Guy Woodroof (1979). "Coconuts: Production, Processing, Products". 2nd ed. AVI Publishing Co. Inc.|
|Coconut shell ash compound|
|Fe2O3 + Al2O3||1.39|
|Source: Jasper Guy Woodroof (1979). "Coconuts: Production, Processing, Products". 2nd ed. AVI Publishing Co. Inc.|
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". 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.
Culinary uses of the various parts of the palm include: