The monocotyledonous coconut palm (Cocos nucifera, 2n = 32, Palmae or Arecaceae) is grown in about 80 countries situated within 20° of the equator. (See: Crop Atlas Appendix, Map 18) The coconut ranks sixth in terms of world vegetable oil production (see: Oilseeds-major, Table O.1). The kernel or seed within the nut contains copra (the dried solid endosperm of the nut) that yields on extraction 65 to 72% oil (see: Oilseeds-major, Table O.2). About 84% of the copra is produced in Asia, primarily in the Philippines, Indonesia and India, with lesser amounts harvested in Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Vietnam and a host of other countries. In 2002, 53 million t of coconut were produced.
It has not been possible to pinpoint the centre of origin of the coconut palm due to its wide distribution and absence of wild populations. However, most likely it originated in Southeast Asia from where it was distributed to other regions by ocean currents and explorers. Due to the palm’s heterozygous nature it has not been possible to segregate populations into identifiable races, but two distinct classes are known, the tall, cross-pollinated typica type and the primarily self-pollinating dwarf nana form.
The fruit is a 15-30 cm oval-shaped, fibrous drupe weighing about 1 kg and containing one of the largest seeds known in the plant kingdom. A smooth epidermis covers the 5-10 cm thick fibrous mesocarp composed of pigmented parenchyma cells in which fibrous strands containing vascular tissue are embedded. The endocarp or shell, about 3-5 mm thick, consists mostly of stone cells and some vascular tissue. The outer cells of the thin brown testa are mostly spindle-shaped with pitted walls while those of the inner testa layer are thin-walled and yellow-brown in colour. The 1-2 cm thick endosperm surrounds a cavity about 300 ml in volume (see Colour Plate 12C). Liquid endosperm (coconut milk) partially fills the cavity. The cells of the endosperm contain oil bodies and protein bodies with prominent crystalloids. The minute embryo is embedded in the endosperm opposite one of the three germ pores.
The coconut palm not only provides oil but also food, feed, beverage and shelter. The oil is used in margarine, shortening and soap manufacture. The desiccated pulp is used in confectionery and cooking. The fibres of the mesocarp are used to make mats, brushes and ropes. The shell and husk are used for fuel in copra processing. (See: Coir)
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