I’m not saying I know everything about coconut palms and coconuts, but I do feel I have a decent working knowledge. This all comes courtesy of being with Joe, a palm enthusiast, for 35 years and gardening with him in South Florida for 8 of those years. Imagine my surprise when I was on a late-night, channel-surfing expedition and discovered “Les Stroud’s Wild Harvest” on my local PBS station and something entirely new about coconuts — at least to Joe and me.
If it’s one thing I have plenty of, it’s coconuts. In my tiny yard, there are 12 coconut-producing palms — and because coconut palms are always producing coconuts, you could say that I have a lovely and large bunch of them.
But when is a coconut not a coconut?
I recently participated in a weekly Twitter discussion group called Garden Chat. This particular chat was hosted by Teresa Watkins of Earth Shattering Gardening and the subject was fruit trees. Most of the conversation had to do with apples and pears, best growing practices, advice, and such. That got me thinking about the fruit trees — the only fruit trees — I currently have growing in my Florida yard.
Here’s a look back at a tribute to Cocos nucifera, the coconut palm.
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.”
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.
That’s 25 to 75 possibilities of coconut water, milk, meat, and, of course, more palms.