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