The Biggest Seed I Ever Planted


 Seed Memories

It’s seed starting time — and by now, I should have flats of impatiens and petunias and geraniums planted in my Long Island potting shed, with dahlias, cosmos, and gazanias scheduled for the weeks ahead.  But as I’ve said in previous posts, this is a season of a different kind — in so many ways.

For starters, I’m away from the potting shed.  Instead, I have south Florida — and as my northern garden and gardening friends have shivered and shoveled during this winter’s harshness, south Florida has enjoyed exceptional warmth.  By northern standards, it feels like summer.

And so I find myself caught between a rock and a hard place, or rather, between my usual pre-spring rituals in the northland and what I’m told is the approaching “end” of the growing season in the southland.  (Extreme heat and humidity are not kind to many vegetables and flowers.)

Nevertheless, there is the urge to recognize the miracle that is a seed — so much promise locked up inside, just waiting to emerge — and I can think of no other way to celebrate seeds than with the biggest seed I’ve ever planted, the seed of Cocos nucifera — better known as the coconut.

Coconut Sprout

Coconut Sprout

In my south Florida yard there are 17 coconut palms of various heights and maturities.  What this really means is that Joe is cuckoo for coconuts — and if he had his way, he would gladly plant coconuts throughout south Florida — a Johnny Appleseed for the subtropics.  Or, as we like to joke, “Joey Coconuts.”

It also means that in addition to garden pests and weeds, I also have to be aware that at any moment I could be hit on the noggin with a coconut falling from a tree — especially since Joe and I are both convinced that my head seems to have its own gravitational pull.

Still, it’s a nice feeling to witness a seed’s sprouting without the need of a magnifying glass — especially when that seed is as important as the coconut.

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.”

The first step is to determine if the coconut, which more than likely fell from a tree, is viable for planting.  If a simple shake results in a sloshing sound from inside the coconut, then there is a very good chance that that coconut will sprout.

Coconut Sprout 2

And when it comes to coconut planting, nothing could be easier to handle.  Simply dig a shallow hole and place the coconut so that three-quarters of it can be buried, either horizontally or vertically.  Add heat and moisture and more heat.  It can even be covered with sawdust to really turn up the heat.

In time — and this could mean months — a tender green shoot will be strong enough to break through the coconut’s hard shell and a tap root will descend into the earth.  Eventually, the new palm will look like this.

It's amazing to see a blade of green slice through the tough coconut shell as if it were soft butter.

Coconut Palm Sprout

Joey Coconuts' work paid off -- behold the fruits of his labor.

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.

Coconut Palm Sheath

Coconut Palm Sheath 2

Within a day, the cream-colored flower branches, or inflorescence, have emerged — and bees love it!

Inflorescence Yellow

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

Inflorescence 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 — that’s a lot of potential seeds.

What a lovely bunch of coconuts, courtesy of Cocos nucifera.

Coconut palms may not be for everyone.  They can be somewhat labor intensive — primarily because of the damage potential to a car —  or a head — that might be beneath the coconut’s canopy.  As a result, homeowners either self-cut or hire professionals to remove the coconuts before they have a chance to drop.

I guess it’s like they always say: Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes you don’t.

39 thoughts on “The Biggest Seed I Ever Planted

    • Hi Mario. I can’t imagine how you and the nursery have been coping with this winter. I’m sending warm thoughts your way — and if spring doesn’t come to you, you can come to it. It’s a plane away. Be well and be warm!

    • Thanks! I’m always amazed to see the so-called “tender” greenery slice through the coconut’s hard shell as if it were butter. Incredible!

  1. While growing up in Hawaii on a military base, we had a coconut tree right out my bedroom window! I used to ( as the tomboy came out of me) climb that tree every chance I could . I know I have photos somewhere that my dad took of me acting totally goofy! Thanks for the memories!!!! Glad you are warm too!

  2. The coconut palm is really a beautiful tree. We have so many palm varieties growing in Southern California, but a coconut palm is not one of them. When we once visited Florida I was fascinated with them, and smuggled a coconut home on the plane–that tells you it was a while ago. I can imagine a little conflict in having so many trees, Kevin. They’re really spectacular, but I can see what a hazard they’d be. Your photographs are really outstanding in their detail. I really didn’t think about the humidity being a deterrent to a longer growing season. I thought it acted like a greenhouse and that you could grow pretty much year-round. It is going to be interesting to see how you make this all work for you so that you can keep your fingers dirty all summer long. 🙂

    • Hi Debra! There are some plants — like coconut palms — that can grow all year long. The high humidity and heat, though, can take its toll on other plants — just picture how many annuals look at the end of northern summer — wiped out, mildewed, wilted. It’s a whole new way of thinking down here.

    • CLAIRE! The coconut palm has a slow start. After its first year, the leaves take on the classic pinnate shape. After about five years, there is a short trunk and very long fronds, giving the effect of a green fountain. As fronds age, they brown and fall from the tree — thus creating a bit of trunk. By the way, fronds on a mature palm can measure 15′ or more. This growth process happens year-round. In addition, the coconut palm is able to produce nuts year-round. A very cool plant for a hot climate. 🙂

  3. I love coconut tree’s !! when we were in Costa Rica on holiday I saw coconut tree’s everywhere, we also ate some and they were so different from the ones we can buy here, they were sweet and moist and the flesh was so soft, here there is almost no milk in them and the flesh is really hard. Have fun over there !

    • Hi Valery. If I understand your question . . . the green coconut isn’t ripe enough. With time, it becomes a brown coconut. Beneath the hard brown shell is the more fibrous nut that is so familiar. When planting, the whole brown coconut goes three-quarters in the ground, either horizontally or vertically. Hope this helps — and thanks for the question.

      • Hi,
        In 2011, I “borrowed” a coconut from a friend’s yard, and sprouted it in a pot. In 2016, I planted it in the ground of my South FL house. Now, in 2022, it’s a glorious, beautiful, 25′ coconut palm, with fronds that span about 30′ and a trunk that’s around 6′ tall. This year, it started to produce coconuts of its own, and at just above eye level, there are around 20 coconuts. A few already fell to the ground, but are still green. I’m excited to plant them and get much need shade in the yard. Do you think I can sprout the green ones, or do I have to wait till they dry on the tree? I hear water inside. I love this species of palm, and that’s why I selected the original, specifically from my friend’s tree. I would buy more, but I forgot which name of the many I ultimately picked. Life is short, and so is my patience :).
        Thank you. I really love your photos and writing.

      • Hi JB. Thanks for commenting and for your kind words. While the coconuts are green, the liquid you hear inside is coconut water, which is healthy to drink. It also means the actual seed inside isn’t mature. Once the coconut is brown, whether it’s on the ground or still in the tree, when you shake it, you’ll still hear liquid. Now, though, you can crack the coconut open and see the actual seed (the brown hairy thing). This, in turn, can be broken open and you can enjoy coconut milk or coconut meat, which is usually shaved and sold in supermarkets. When the outside shell of the coconut is brown (no matter if it browned on the ground or in the tree), it can be planted. Since you’ve already had success in sprouting one, the coconut just has to be placed on the ground or buried about halfway in some dirt. Heat and humidity are the greatest coconut germinators. All of that being said, though, there is a small warning. Since you and I don’t know the cultivar of the coconut you planted, there’s no way of knowing what cultivar you’ll be sprouting. You may get one that’s identical to the parent or one that resembles whatever cultivars were cross pollinated to make your tree or the coconuts on your tree (since you never know what palms the bees have visited before landing on the inflorescence of your tree). For example, they could be Jamaican Tall, Panama Tall, Malayan Dwarf, or Maypans (which are a hybrid of Panama Tall and Golden Malayan Dwarf), to name a few. In short, green coconuts don’t sprout until they turn brown. It will just take longer — and there’s always the risk some animal might enjoy gnawing into the green coconut. I hope this answers your question.

  4. So awesome to see a sprouting coconut! My husband’s grandparents in India have coconut trees, and they get a guy to climb them and get them to eat. It’s a little nerve wracking to watch – the guy just scurries up the tree, barefoot (no ladder or ropes!) and throws the coconuts down (hopefully avoiding anything important)! So very delicious!

    • How cool is that?!? Every so often, someone drives down the street and offers to climb up and cut down the coconuts. I just worry about liability if the climber falls. For now, I’ll wait for the nuts to fall to me. 🙂

  5. Cool post, I think everything down there is cool! (except maybe the poisonous biting stuff). I’m always bummed out that all the coconuts are trimmed for safety. I guess it’s important, but I think ripe coconuts hanging everywhere would be icing on the cake.
    What are Joe’s feelings on bananas? I’m a fan 🙂

    • Hi Bittster. Glad you liked the post — but never mind about the poisonous biting stuff, even some of the most beautiful plants are deadly toxic. As for bananas, Joe and I are on the same page — tasty, beautiful flower, and tropical to look at — but messy! They grow like a weed down here and can take over. I’ll enjoy looking at them in my neighbor’s yard — but I’ll also remain vigilant for sprouts that appear on my side of the fence.

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