The Curious Coconut: Life in the Tropics

As a cyclone rages through a tropical island and winds gain speed, the coconut palm is pushed to the ground. Miraculously, the trunk does not break. Instead, the tree bends to the mercy of the wind and waits out the storm. It is able to do this because the coconut palm adapted to a precarious life in a tropical environment. The trunk is not made of bark, but of fibrous fronds that overlap each other so bending without breaking is possible.

The trunk of the coconut palm is not the only part of the plant that goes through difficult times. The fruit has trials of its own. The coconut seed is the second largest seed among plants (coco-de-mer is the largest). It develops for 12 months before dropping to the ground. The thick husk that surrounds the seed acts as both a protective layer and a life jacket. The ocean tide may pick up the coconut and hand it over to a current. The coconut can travel for up to four months before needing to find a patch of beach to land on. During this time the coconut water hardens and feeds the seed for one year.


Melbourne : J. W. Lindt, 1885

The robustness of the coconut that allowed it to survive for millions of years did not go unnoticed by humans. Humans cultivated the coconut for food, medicine, jewelry and other materials since prehistoric times. Researchers can even match ancient trade routes with the dispersal of the coconut.

George Rose, 1900-1920








Every aspect of cocos nucifera, the coconut palm, adapted beautifully to life along the equator. Today, over 11 million farmers cultivate the coconut making it an imperative crop in the tropics. By the time it reaches the grocery store, the coconut usually has been stripped down for easy access. But on a secluded beach in Fiji, I put in the extra effort to enjoy the fresh version.

How to eat a fresh coconut:




Further Reading:

Adkins, S.W., Foale, M. and Samosir, Y.M.S. (eds) 2006. Coconut revival—new possibilities for the

‘tree of life’.

Foale, M. 2003. The Coconut Odyssey: The Bounteous Possibilities of the Tree of Life

Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research






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