Coconut, the fruit of the coconut palm tree. The tree grows wild on tropical seacoasts, and is cultivated in moist, frost-free climates. Leading producers of coconuts include Indonesia, the Philippines, India, and Sri Lanka. The tree is planted for ornament in southern Florida.
The trunk is one to two feet (30 to 60 cm) in diameter. It has no branches but carries a crown of leaves 75 to 100 feet (23 to 30 m) above the ground. The leaves are shaped like feathers, with many segments, and are usually 10 to 20 feet (3 to 6 m) long. The nuts hang at the bases of the leaves in clusters of 10 to 15. Several clusters ripen during the year. A tree may yield as many as 200 nuts a year, but the average is about 30.
The nut is smooth on the outside, yellowish or greenish in color. Within the outer shell is a fibrous husk one to two inches (2.5 to 5 cm) thick. The inner shell is brown and hard, surrounding the white coconut meat. When green, the nuts contain a large amount of fluid, called coconut milk, which is a sweetish, nutritious drink. Later this fluid is absorbed as the nut ripens and its flesh thickens and hardens.
Coconuts are among the largest of seeds. When ripe, they fall from the tree and are frequently washed out to sea. They may drift about for months before they are cast up by the waves onto shore. After four to five months, the seed sprouts and a new tree begins to grow. In about six years the tree begins to bear nuts, and reaches full bearing at 20 years. The tree continues to bear nuts for many years.Coconuts are among the largest of seeds.
The coconut tree is the most versatile and valuable tree of the tropics. The uses to which it may be put rival those of the bamboo in variety and number.
Coconuts are marketed in the shell for home use. To harvest them, men climb the trees or use knives on long bamboo poles.
Coconut meat is shredded or flaked for use in baked goods or candies. The dried meat, called copra, contains over 60 per cent oil. This oil is used in making soap, cooking fat, margarine, cosmetics, lubricants, and many other products. Coconut cake, the solid material left after the oil is removed from the copra, is a form of oil cake and is used in making cattle feed and fertilizer.
The nut is tapped for its milk when green. It is especially valuable in tropical areas where pure water is scarce. The fiber from the husk is called coir and is used to make mats, cordage, brushes, and packing material for plants. The shell is used for ladles and cups, and is polished and ornamented into souvenirs and decorative objects. When burnt, it yields excellent lampblack.
The leaves of the tree are used to thatch roofs and to make hats, baskets, fans, and other articles. Young leaf shoots may be eaten as salad. The sap, a sweetish fluid called toddy, is fermented into an alcoholic beverage or into vinegar. It may also be used to make sugar or yeast. The trunk is used for canoes, posts, rafters, and fences. The ribs of the leaves are used for spears, arrows, and torches.
The coconut palm is Cocos nucifera of the family Palmae.