Where Baby Coconuts Come From

The romance of the coconut tree, the ubiquitous symbol of any tropical isle – every tropical land – grabbed me once, and has never let me go.  Have you ever noticed that no two coconut trees are alike – that every one leans and twists differently to its neighbour?  Has anyone ever recounted to you the hundred uses to which the coconut tree is put by humans?

Did you ever wonder, wandering along a deserted tropical beach, under the swaying fronds of a coconut palm, how it might have grown there, so close to the sea?  Perhaps it’s not your thing?   But when you consider its’ geographic distribution across every continent between 26°N and 26°S (except for the interiors of Africa and South America, according to Wicki), there must be a secret, don’t you think, to why the coconut is such a success?

To me, the miracles of nature are nowhere more interesting than in the reproductive processes of the mighty coconut.

With its tough waterproof skin and aerated coir ballast, the coconut is designed to float – not only that,  it’s also built to withstand quite a pounding, and survive a long time at sea …

Lodged in any sandy crevice whence it fell or was knocked or carried by stream or wave, it will lie there, slowly maturing, using all the nutrients stored in its fragrant juicy heart.  But I should start at the beginning – come, I’ll show you.

Sure, its male and female flowers are strange waxy things, but they develop into giant acorn-like nuts that weigh over a kilogram.  Hidden inside is the hairy brown coconut you see at the market, with its dark woody shell and snowy white flesh nurtured by a couple of cups of sweet pale liquid, and hidden inside that – if the coconut has been fertilised and allowed to mature – is a delicate crispy/floury marshmallowy confection – the sprout – in which the kernel matures – beautiful, to see and taste.

Whether your nut has fallen naturally, or been plucked by man or monkey, when mature that marshmallowy sprout sends out a shoot that pops one of the three ‘eyes’ on the nut and forces its way through the surrounding coir – which by now is mercifully succumbing to the relentless forces of nature and beginning to split and unravel a little – and just like any other seedling, down goes a branch into the soil and another into the air, and voila – six to eight years later, a young coconut tree will begin its productive life, ripe for the plucking.

So, next time you’re wandering down a beach beneath romantically swaying palms, look up at those coconuts and smile to yourself – because you know where baby coconuts come from.

Swaying Coconut Palms

35 thoughts on “Where Baby Coconuts Come From

  1. How absolutely wonderful! I love coconuts. I love to eat the flesh and now we can get coconut water in little packs in Australia (hard to find in Italy)…not as good as fresh, but not bad.
    Thank you for the coconut lesson. I would love to taste the sprout, although they are so cute it seems cruel.

    • I’m overjoyed to learn we can get coconut water in Oz now – lets hope it’s king coconut water – the most delicious thing, after water! As to the sprout – if you come across a very old coconut, that’s pretty well dried out, you might find one growing inside …

      So glad you liked the post, Debra.

  2. how fascinating .. i had no idea …. not that i have opened many coconuts, but i did not realise there was supposed to be a sprout inside … i love to see the coconuts washed up on beaches far from the parent trees and marvel at their ability to travel in the ocean … thanks for a marvellous lesson meredith!

  3. And even I who lives in south India, in a state which is known as “the land of Coconuts and Spices” learnt something today. Thank you so much. And btw, for Christmas I spray what the vendors discard (as in your pict. no. 7) in silver or antique gold, and it looks absolutely beautiful. The vendors think I am slightly mad collecting armfuls from their waste at their roadside stalls, but when they saw what I did, some of them hang them up as their own decoration, hm! Carina

    • Ah, there, you must be living in beautiful Kerala, right?

      I’m sure your discarded bits make beautiful Christmas pieces. My mother used to spray different palm pieces for arrangements and they were often stunning.

  4. Around here, a coconut with a little bud inside it is considered very auspicious. Often a coconut is broken for religious as well as festive occasions, and if it happens to be the mature one, its considered a good sign… I have seen it only once or twice… Lovely post 🙂

    • Kasturika, I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to catch up! I can imagine how auspicious it must be to crack open a fertilised nut for a ceremony – after all, it’s fecund, and full of life. Thanks for adding this interesting dimension to my understanding of the fabulous coconut.

      I suppose the reason we rarely see sprouts is that we like our coconuts nice and fresh, to use for eating, and will never pick up a dry old nut! The only reason I came across two sprouts in the one day was that my maid had collected dried old nuts from the kade to make hair oil and low and beyond, two had sprouts inside!

  5. I’ve never even seen the flowers, Meredith, let alone wander on a beach like that. My wanders have all been of the European variety. I want to get on a plane and come coconut hunting!
    Great post.

  6. What an interesting post! With an absence of coconut trees, I never gave their propagation much thought. Sure, the coconut is a seed but that’s about all I knew. Now, though, I’m an expert. OK. Maybe not an expert in your part of the world but here, in Chicago, I’ll be considered an authority on coconuts. And I owe it all to you! 😉

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  8. Thank you for another deeply insightful post Meredith, I had no idea the coconut was such a marvel of nature! The marshmallow-like sprout resembles both a children’s toy and a soft, spongy pudding. Glad you unpacked it through your pictures. 🙂

    Here in Hong Kong we’re just within the upper boundary of 26°N, but sadly I have yet to come across a coconut palm in my 15+ years of living here. For now they remain a novelty that I only get to see on my travels in Southeast Asia.

  9. I LOVE the sweet sprout! And the sweet, flaky, tender heart of the palm (trunk)….haven’t tasted that in years! Beautiful post Meredith 🙂

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