Coconut is the fruit of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera), a palm tree (Arecaceae). Coconuts are one of the most common tropical crops and are thought to have originated somewhere in Indo-Malaya. Coconut flesh contains a lot of fat and can be dried or eaten raw. The nut’s liquid is used in drinks.
From a swollen base, the coconut palm’s slender, leaning, ringed trunk grows to a height of up to 25 metres (80 feet) and is crowned by a graceful crown of giant featherlike leaves. A dense fibrous husk surrounds the familiar single-seeded nut of commerce, which is ovoid or ellipsoid in form and measures 300–450 mm (12–18 inches) in length and 150–200 mm (6–8 inches) in diameter in mature fruits. The insignificant embryo with its plentiful endosperm, which is made up of both meat and liquid, is encased in a hard shell. Coconut fruits float easily and have been spread extensively in the tropics by ocean currents and humans.
Palms thrive in low-lying areas by the shore, a few feet above high water, where there is circulating groundwater and plenty of rainfall. Small native plantations produce the majority of the world’s coconuts. Unhusked ripe nuts are used for propagation. These are placed in nursery beds on their sides, close together, and almost fully covered in soil. The seedlings are transplanted to the field after 4 to 10 months and are spaced at 8–10 meters (26–33 feet) apart. After 5 to 6 years, palms begin to bear fruit. In 15 years, the full bearing is achieved. Fruits take a year to ripen; although the annual yield per tree can exceed 100, 50 is considered adequate. Yields remain profitable until the trees reach the age of 50 years.
The harvested coconut also yields copra, the dried extracted kernel, or meat, from which coconut oil, a major vegetable oil, is expressed, in addition to the edible kernels and the drink obtained from green nuts. Copra production is led by the Philippines and Indonesia, and it is one of the most valuable export items in the South Pacific. The meat can also be grated and combined with water to make coconut milk, which can be used in cooking or as a cow’s milk substitute. Coir, a salt-resistant fiber used in the production of ropes, mats, baskets, brushes, and brooms, is made from dry husk.
While the coconut’s commercial value is greatest in Western industrial countries, its cultural value is even greater in its native lands. Coconuts, according to Indonesians, have as many uses as there are days in a year. Toddy, palm cabbage, and building materials are some of the other items made from coconut palm. Toddy, a beverage that can be consumed fresh, fermented, or distilled, is made from the sweetish sap released by young flower stalks when they are wounded or cut; it also contains sugar and alcohol. Palm cabbage, a delicate young bud cut from the top of the tree, is eaten as a salad vegetable, similar to other palm buds. Palm leaves that have reached maturity are used in thatching and basket weaving. The fibrous, decay-resistant tree trunk is used to build huts and is also exported as porcupine wood, a form of cabinet wood.