Cocos nucifera (dwarf cultivar)

Adding the second in her series, Tamara Bonnemaison scribes:

We continue our series on extraordinary seeds with this image of Cocos nucifera, generously shared by Ahmad Fuad Morad@Flickr. The photo shows seedlings of an ambiguously-named “aromatic dwarf” cultivar of the coconut palm, taken in Sungai Pau, Malaysia. Thank you Ahmad!

The previous entry about extraordinary seeds featured Phoenix dactylifera, or the date, and today we discuss the coconut. I am tempted to turn this series into a cookie recipe–perhaps if I featured Triticum and Brassica napus (for canola oil) next, we could put together a tasty treat from those four ingredients! I have selected Cocos nucifera for this series as it has the second largest seed in the world, and it also has an unusual endosperm that provides us with both coconut water and coconut “meat”. The prize for largest seed in the world goes to some instructions. Before making a coconut bowl, it is recommended that you drain the coconut water by finding the coconut’s soft “eye”. Coconut endocarps have three eyes or germination pores, but only one of those is soft – the other two are often called the ‘blind’ eyes. Below the germination pores nests the single embryo, whose radicle will break through the soft eye when germinated.

The coconut’s seed is well protected by its husk, and so its testa (seed coat) is very thin. Within the papery brown testa is the endosperm, the tissue that surrounds and provides nutrition to the developing embryo. In the coconut seed, the endosperm goes through a nuclear phase of development, during which it is present in liquid form. This “coconut water”, has recently gained popularity as a nutrient-rich and refreshing drink, but I wonder if anyone would buy it were it labeled with its botanical descriptor: glass of nuclear coconut endosperm, anyone? As the embryo develops, the endosperm begins to form cell walls, and this cellular endosperm is deposited in layers against the testa, forming the coconut’s “meat”.

The white coconut meat is rich in fat, and can be eaten as is, or made into coconut milk and oil. In coconuts that have avoided being eaten or damaged, the germinated embryo will form an absorbing organ called a nursing foot, which swells into the cavity of the coconut and absorbs the nutritious endosperm over the period of about one year. These seedlings are still not quite safe–apparently the nursing foot is also called a coconut apple, and is quite delicious.

This article is focused on the coconut fruit and seed. If you would like to learn more about Cocos nucifera in general, read this great article by the The Private Naturalist – The Coconut Palm.

“If you could count the stars, then you could count all the ways the coconut tree serves us.”–Phillipine proverb

Cocos nucifera

8 responses to “Cocos nucifera (dwarf cultivar)”

  1. Stephen Lamphear

    Let’s get cooking!!!

  2. Fran Stallings/Earthteller

    I heard a Phillipina tell a traditional folktale about a villager who was so stingy that he would not help his neighbors when they needed food, water, bowls, roofing thatch, building timbers, mats, etc. When he died, however, a coconut palm grew from his grave–and the trees have been providing all these things ever since.
    I wish I could find a text of that story!

  3. Claire Bullaro

    I’ve always wondered about the process of coconut germination since, at a superficial glance, there doesn’t seem to be any parts similar to other seeds. This is fascinating.

  4. Wendy Cutler

    That was so interesting. I have never even heard of a coconut apple. Now to figure out how to find one next year in Hawaii, or do they only form during certain months?

  5. Sierra Bravo

    Coconut apple forms in a mature coconut (either one that has been plucked by expert climbers who can distinguish between mature and tender nuts, or one that has naturally fallen from the tree) that has been allowed to rest for a few months.
    The coconut apple may not show up from an external examination of the nut. However, when the nut is shaken, the usual sound of the liquid endosperm sloshing around within the nut will not occur, as the coconut apple absorbs this liquid when it develops.
    As mentioned in the text, the apple is quite delicious to eat–it is light, spongy, and mildly sweet, with the characteristic ‘coconutty’ flavour.
    [Source: I live in Kerala (South India), which is sometimes described as the land of coconuts.]

  6. Larent Tifoli

    Je vois ça curieux, il faudra que je m’attarde encore sur le fond… Autrement y a t il un façon de gagner du temps pour accomplir ceci ??

  7. Alice

    Yet another great, informative write-up. As a gardener AND cook, I’m really enjoying this series!

  8. Ann Welles

    Have followed this website for years but have to say this entry is particularly well written. Wry. Thank you.

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