Bloomin’ Update 29: How To Read A Palm

Based on readers’ comments from the previous post, I thought I would delve deeper into the wonders of Cocos nucifera, or the coconut palm.  Many northern gardeners had commented that either they had never really considered the seed-quality of a coconut or had never seen one sprout. 

For starters, I offer you a photo update of a very young coconut.  A few days ago, Joe and I found a coconut that had already begun to sprout.  Within days of planting it halfway in the dirt, and in a location where it could receive plenty of water and heat, the tightly curled sprout had stretched open (above).  It’s amazing to think that this tender green is strong enough to pierce the coconut’s hard shell.

On the other hand, it’s not so surprising when one considers the gift that is a coconut palm.

According to Dr. T. Ombrello, a biology professor at Union County College, the coconut palm is considered to be one of the most useful trees in the world.  Parts of the tree can be converted into roofing, fencing, alcohol, shoes, soil amendments, mulch, and so much more.  In fact, a recent study indicated 360 uses for the tree, half of which were for food.  Even Marco Polo had something to say when he first came across this tree: “One of these nuts is a meal for a man, both meat and drink.”

A close-up of the coconut palm “burlap,” a kind of fibrous cloth.

When a coconut palm is about five years old, it begins to produce both male and female flowers.  The pistillate, or female, flowers, are large and spherical.  The staminate, or male, flowers are smaller.  Initially, the flowers are hidden by a sheath.  When the sheath begins to split, it seems to resemble a corn husk.

Within a day, the cream-colored flower branches, or inflorescence, have emerged — and bees are busy at work.

As the inflorescence is exposed to sunlight, it turns a vibrant green.

Don’t be fooled by the frail-looking flower branch.  Eventually,  it will hold the weight of a whole lot of coconuts.  In the course of a year, each coconut palm tree can produce between 25 and 75 coconuts. 

Finally, it wouldn’t be a “Bloomin’ Update,” without a photo of a flowering kind of bloom.  This is Ixora.


17 thoughts on “Bloomin’ Update 29: How To Read A Palm

    • The flowers are beautiful — and fast. There’s another palm in the yard that had its inflorescence covered in a sheath — and then overnight, the flower branches appeared. I would love to set up a time-lapse camera to capture the whole process.

  1. I’m not familiar with Ixora, but isn’t that beautiful! I love the photos and the closeups of the parts of the palm. Here in Southern California we have palms just everywhere, but of course, not coconut palms! I’d love to do some reading to determine why our palms are so different. Obviously we aren’t tropical and so that’s the key difference, but I also wonder if there is any other difference that isn’t quite as obvious. You’ve given me a good little research question! Debra

    • Debra — there are so many palm species, and each has adapted itself for it’s climate. Coconut palms, for example, are cold sensitive, salt tolerant, and usually grow along coastal areas. The coconuts themselves float, which explains how they were able to spread across the south Pacific — fall off a palm, float along, become nestled along the beach of some other island, grow into a tree. Explorers helped spread them even further. And don’t get me started on date palms. . . 🙂 As for Ixora, I’m looking at that shrub as a possible south Florida substitute for Hydranngeas. Happy research!

  2. I’d love to live somewhere where I could grow things like coconuts! I moved from Norway to Britain 13 years ago, and found I could grow a whole heap of new things I never even knew the name of before…I doubt I’d ever root up and move again to yet another country but your photos makes me long for summer, sunshine and exotic plants! Thanks for a very informative post as always 🙂

    • Helene, I know moving can be a big deal — I cannot even fathom what it must have been like for you to move to another country! That seems so overwhelming to me. In the meantime, I’ll send you some sunshine! Happy to hear that you enjoy the posts. 🙂

  3. Kevin, Although I love the taste of coconut (both in its meat and drink forms) and have used coir fibers from coconut both as a soil amendment and in products such as door mats, I had never really considered the coconut palm as a plant. These posts have been very educational and have made me aware of a big blind spot I have about plants that I use but that don’t grow in my climate.

    • Jean, I am so glad you found the posts interesting and educational. I think as gardeners, we all get locked in to whatever we happen to grow in our climate — but there is huge variety out there, and so many people around the world are able to do wonders with what they can grow. Maybe when your garden is sleeping, you’ll be able to jump on a plane and see some palms up close. 🙂

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