The coconut palm tree belongs to the family Arecales and is about 30m tall. They have long, pinnate leaves and the tree is found all over the world in tropical areas. The palm tree can be harvested and used for many different things in both culinary and non culinary circumstances.
The coconut palm tree is tall, with an un-branched trunk and it has a crown of fronds at the top. The color of the trunk is a light gray and the base of the tree is called the "bole". At the base, the roots come out and they are strong enough to anchor the tall tree during a typhoon or a hurricane. For seedlings and buds, the leaves of those trees are whole and unbroken, but the leaves of older trees have leaflets or pinnae on both sides of the leaf and are arranged like a feather. At the top of the stem, there are leaves that surround a large apical bud that people call "millionaire's cabbage" and it is a delicacy because the tree will die if you remove it. The tree's flowers are white and they bloom in the spring and are not easy to see. The fruit is oval and round shaped, has a length of 6 to 12 inches, and they are much easier to spot.
The coconut palm tree has both male and female flowers in the same inflorescence (flowering heads). The coconut tree starts flowering after six to seven years and the flowering heads grow in the leaf axilis (the axilis is where the leaf meets the stem). There are two bracts (leaf-like structures) that protects the flowering head. The inflorescence is branched and it has two separate flowers - one female and one male flower. These flowers smell sweet and have nectar in them that attract the insects for pollination. The pollen is also very light and very dry so the wind can also blow the pollen to the other flowers for pollination. On coconut trees, the male flower matures before the female flower matures so that flowers in the same inflorescence are not able to pollinate each other.
The coconut palm tree grows best in sandy soils and it prefers areas with regular rainfall and a lot of sunlight. It needs 750 to 2,000 mm of rainfall annually and high humidity (70%-80%) for best growth. Because of the conditions needed for the palm tree to live, they are often found on shorelines in tropical areas. This tree cannot tolerate freezing weather and at a temperature below 34ºF, they will have leaf injury, at 30ºF they will defoliate, and they will die at 27ºF. Just one night of being in freezing weather will set back the growth for a palm tree back about six months.
- You are able to eat the white, fleshy part of the coconut seed and it is eaten fresh or dried and in cooking.
- Inside the coconut, the cavity is filled with coconut water and it is very nutritious. It can be used as a refreshing drink on a hot day and it contains sugar, antioxidants, proteins, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
- You can also make coconut milk by processing grated coconut with milk or hot water. Doing this extracts the oil and all of the aromatic compounds.
- If you refrigerate coconut milk and leave it to set, coconut cream will rise to the top and separate.
- Palm wine is made from sap from the flower coconuts after being fermented
- The sap can also be made into a sweet syrup or into candy.
- You can harvest the apical buds (aka “palm-cabbage” or “millionaire's cabbage”) but doing this kills the tree.
Non Cullinary Uses
- Coconut water is used in isotonic sport drinks.
- When making ropes, mats, and brushes, they use coir (coir is the fiber from the husk of the coconut)
- Copra (the dried meat of the nut) is where most of the coconut oil comes from.
- The palmwood from the trunk of the tree can be made into furniture
- The palmtrees have been hollowed out by Hawaiians to make drums, small canoes, and containers.
- The shells make good fuel.
- In the Philippines, using a dried half of a coconut shell with its husks to buff floors is called bunot.
- Shirt buttons made out of a coconut shell can be found on Hawaiian Aloha shirts.
- The root can be used as a toothbrush and made into mouthwash.
- In the film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, half coconut shells were used to make sound effects of a horse's hoof beats when banged together.
- Rugs can be made from coconut fiber
- The leaves from the Coconut tree can be woven to make roofing materials.
- Some snorkelers will rub fresh inner coconut husk on the lens of snorkeling goggles since this prevents the lens from fogging when snorkeling.
- In Pakistan, coconut is used to treat bites from rats.
- Fuel can be made from coconut oil to be a substitute to replace diesel in cars (island of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea).
- The roots of the coconut tree can be made into a dye.
- The trunks of the tree are used to help stabilize buildings.