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.