Palm tree and coconut

Getting your own coconut trees going

Coconut trees are super easy to grow and can be a good source of income for anyone!

Coconuts are not really nuts but are botanically known as drupes. The trees are generally classified as tall or dwarf. These tropical fruits can be as small as a few centimeters while the biggest coconut is called the Lodoicea or the ‘sea coconut’ – of which a single fruit can weigh around 30 kg. The tree grows up to 34 m tall and produces giant coconuts that take up to 6 years to mature and another 2 years to sprout. Because of its unique shape, it is also called ‘double coconut’.

Fortunately, nature gives us many more varieties of coconut that sprout faster and produce fruits all year round.

While selecting which variety to grow, you may feel a little lost, like me. Living in urban areas makes it challenging to decide what to grow and what not to. I have a list of my favourite coconut trees that I would, ideally, want to plant. But one must make a selection.

The best part about dwarf varieties is that the harvest becomes super easy

The challenge

There are some tall varieties and some dwarf ones. Tall ones elevate the landscape and spread their fan-shaped leaves in the air where other trees will not reach. The long cylindrical stems don’t block your view – which makes them ideal for blending in with any setting, or even a border around a property.

On the other hand, dwarf varieties may spread their leaves or crown at only 12 feet from the ground. This means a lot more space around the tree cannot be used for other purpose. The best part, however, is that the harvest becomes super easy. One can very conveniently pick fruits when they are ready.

Once you have made your selection according to height of the palm tree, you can consider which colour of the fruit you would like to grow. In our part of the world, green coconuts are commonly grown. In Sri Lanka one finds the yellow king coconut wildly growing across the island along with other varieties. Besides the green and yellow ones, nature also offers red coconuts.

Note the variety. Now you understand the challenge that I face?

Personally, I appreciate the beautifully tall green coconut tree outside my house and in the school where we have a learning garden, but I am keen to find a dwarf yellow or red king coconut.

Growing coconut from seed

The coconut is the world’s largest seed and it is said to have spread across the world through the sea. It landed at new shores and began to sprout and spread. Growing a coconut tree from the seed is very simple. There are different methods of doing this and every single one of them works quite well. It depends on how many trees you want to grow.

Sowing seeds at home

Select a fresh coconut with lots of water in it. Dehusk the shell: which simply means removing the outer layer of husk and revealing the inner hard shell. Soak this shell in water for 3-4 days. You might need something heavy like an empty pot or a rock to keep the nut submerged.

After 4 days, place this shell in a bowl or a tray with 2-3 inches of water. Or alternately, plant this shell half covered in a potting mix that retains moisture. Make sure that the three grooves on the shell are on top.

In about a month you will see it sprout and from there onwards it will keep growing. You can then transplant it to a bigger pot and bring it out into the sun.

Starting a nursery of Coconut trees

For starting many coconut trees at a farm or at a nursery, one can’t quite follow the previous method.

Start by digging a trench that is 1 foot wide, 1 foot deep and as long as you like. Place whole coconuts horizontally, 2 feet apart. Cover this halfway and water well. These will soon sprout and grow here for the next couple of years or until you are ready to transplant.

Coconuts growing on a palm tree

Transplanting a coconut tree

Once you are ready to place these trees in to their final home, dig a hole that is 3 by 3 by 3 feet in all directions. Now ideally, you should have lots of coconut husk or an outer cover of coconuts, soil and manure with you to fill up these holes.

Start by spreading a first layer of coconut husk followed by soil, then the next layer of coconut husk and more soil. Finally, add your last layer of soil mixed with manure.

Dig a hole in the middle to fit the root ball of your seedling or young plant. Cover it with soil to even the surface. Now once again place two closely packed rows of coconut husk around the newly planted tree. This will keep the soil moist and protect the tree from weeds.

In case you cannot source coconut husk, simply use a soil and manure mix and use any other organic material for mulching.

Some varieties will begin to fruit as early as two years; others might take 6 to 10 years to produce the first fruits. Once they begin to fruit, they will keep producing for the next 40-50 years.

Some amazing varieties to look out for

King Coconut: It fruits in 6 years but produces medium-sized orange fruits with sweet water inside. It produces 25-50 nuts per bunch

Green Dwarf: It should fruit in 3-4 years. The nuts are small but you get 150 per tree each year.

Sri Lankan tall: it produces 20-25 nuts per bunch and up to 80 nuts per tree each year. This variety starts producing medium-sized fruits in 6 to 7 years.

I believe we must not forget about this super-easy-to-grow fruiting palm tree, that needs very little attention. Next year when tree plantation begins across Karachi, we ought to plant a lot of coconut trees. I would love to learn about what coconut varieties you are growing and any tips that you might want to share.

Happy Gardening!

Zahra Ali is a sustainability educator, writer and environmentalist. She blogs at cropsinpots.pk. Send in questions about gardening to

Tags: Urban gardening

How Do Coconut Trees Reproduce?

Coconuts reproduce by dropping their fruit on the ground. When the coconut ends up in the ground, in the right environment, it produces a seedling that eventually grows up to become a coconut tree on its own, assuming that the conditions are favorable.

One side of the coconut features a point, and while people and other animals pick up quite a few of the coconuts that fall out of trees, others remain on the ground, and the point eventually is at the lower end of the coconut, thanks to the work of gravity. As cycles of rain and sun continue, and the soil shifts, the coconut eventually ends up with the point below the ground and at least half of the coconut below the level of the soil.

At this point, the growth process starts inside the coconut, and eventually a seedling appears from the top. Over time, the seedling grows, turning into a tree over the course of weeks and months. The coconut tree reproduces in a manner similar to many other fruit trees, dropping the instruments of later generations each time a coconut ends up breaking off from the branches and making the long fall to the ground below.

Growing Coconut Palms – How To Grow A Coconut Plant

If you have access to a fresh coconut, you might think that it would be fun to grow a coconut plant, and you would be right. Growing a coconut palm tree is easy and fun. Below you will find the steps for planting coconuts and growing coconut palms from them.

Planting Coconut Trees

To start to grow a coconut plant, begin with a fresh coconut that still has the husk on it. When you shake it, it still should sound like it has water in it. Soak it in water for two to three days.

After the coconut has soaked, place it in a container filled with well-draining potting soil. It is best to mix in a little sand or vermiculite to make sure the soil you will be growing coconut trees in drains well. The container needs to be around 12 inches deep to allow for the roots to grow properly. Plant the coconut point side down and leave one-third of the coconut above the soil.

After planting the coconut, move the container to a well lit, warm spot, the warmer the better. Coconuts do best in spots that are 70 degrees F. (21 C.) or warmer.

The trick to growing a coconut palm tree is to keep the coconut well watered during germination without letting it sit in overly wet soil. Water the coconut frequently but make sure the container drains very well.

You should see the seedling appear in three to six months.

If you want to plant a coconut that has already sprouted, go ahead and plant it in well-draining soil so that the bottom two-thirds of the coconut is in the soil. Place in a warm area and water frequently.

Care of a Coconut Palm Tree

Once your coconut tree has started growing, you need to do a few things to help keep it healthy.

  • First, water the coconut tree frequently. As long as the soil drains well, you really can’t water it too often. If you decide to repot your coconut tree, remember to add sand or vermiculite to the new soil to keep the water draining well.
  • Second, growing coconut palms are heavy feeders that require regular, complete fertilizer. Look for a fertilizer that provides both the basic nutrients plus trace nutrients like boron, manganese and magnesium.
  • Third, coconut palms are very cold sensitive. If you live in an area that gets cold, your coconut plant will need to come inside for the winter. Provide supplemental light and keep it away from drafts. In the summer, grow it outdoors and make sure you place it in a very sunny and warm spot.

Coconut trees that are grown in containers tend to be short lived. They may only live for five to six years, but even though they are short lived, growing coconut trees is a fun project.

Crop Genebank Knowledge Base

Regeneration guidelines for coconut

View regeneration guidelines in full (in PDF)
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Before reading the regeneration details for this crop, read the general introduction that gives general guidelines to follow by clicking here.

Introduction

The coconut palm (Cocos nucifera L.) belongs to the Arecaceae family (Order Arecales) and is the only species of the genus Cocos. The coconut palm is diploid (2n=32). It is woody and perennial with a stem that is erect, unbranched and cylindrical and grows from a single shoot meristem at the apex of the plant. It is anchored by numerous adventitious roots which are produced from the swollen basal part of the stem. The top of the trunk consists of a radiating compact crown with large, thick cuticled pinnate leaves. The fruit is a fibrous drupe with a smooth outside skin (exocarp) which varies in colour.
The two main types of coconut palm are tall and dwarf. Tall coconut palms grow to a height of 20–30 m. They are slow maturing, flower 6–10 years after planting, and have a productive life of 60–70 years. Dwarf coconut palms reach a height of 8–10 m in 20 years. They begin bearing about the third year and have a shorter productive life of 30–40 years. Tall palms are normally cross-pollinating and heterozygous, while dwarf palms are normally self-pollinating and homozygous. The coconut plant is monoecious with inflorescences bearing both male and female flowers. The male flowers, which are on the top portion of spikelets attached to the peduncle, are more numerous than the female flowers, which occupy the base of the spikelets.
Coconut varieties are classified into four groups according to their mode of reproduction:

  • Type I (strict allogamy): Short female phase with no overlap with the male phase of the same inflorescence or with the male phase of the following inflorescence. Examples are some populations of the West African tall cultivar.

  • Type II (indirect partial autogamy): Short female phase with no overlap with the male phase of the same inflorescence but with considerable or total overlap with the male phase of the following inflorescence. Examples are the cultivars Rennell Island Tall, Malayan Tall, Vanuatu Tall.

  • Type III (direct autogamy): Long female phase completely overlapping with the male phase of the same inflorescence, with or without overlapping with the male phase of the following inflorescence. Examples are the cultivars Malayan Yellow Dwarf, Sri Lanka Green Dwarf and Cameroon Red Dwarf.

  • Type IV (semi direct autogamy): Short female phase partially overlapping with the male phase of the same inflorescence and with that of the following inflorescence. Examples are the Brazil Green Dwarf and many dwarf x tall hybrids.

Coconuts are conserved ex situ in field genebanks, but are propagated from seed. There should be at least 45 palms per dwarf accession and 90 palms per tall accession and they must have been generated from at least 10 parent palms for dwarf accessions and 40 parent palms for tall accessions. Accessions are generally planted close to each other and surrounded by palms of many varieties.
The following regeneration guidelines are based mainly on the manual prepared by Santos et al. (1996).

Choice of environment and planting season

Coconuts (photo: EM Dulloo)

Limits of adaptation (minimum and maximum)

  • Altitude: 0–900 m
  • Precipitation: 1000–4000 mm/year
  • Temperature: 21–27°C
  • Soil: wide range of soil types from sandy loam to heavy clay
  • Humidity: 60–90%

Optimum recommended

  • Altitude: up to 600 m
  • Precipitation: 1500–2500 mm/year
  • Temperature: 27°C
  • Soil: aerated and well drained
  • Humidity: 70–80%

Planting season

Seedlings (8–10 months old) should be transplanted at the onset of the rainy season or anytime when irrigation facilities are available.

Preparation for regeneration

When to regenerate

  • When the number of living palms is less than 75 for cross-pollinating varieties or less than 30 for self-pollinating varieties.
  • Before the palms reach a height which makes controlled pollinations difficult. If a ladder is used to climb the palms, this is when the palms become 10–12 m high (25–30 years old for tall types). If technicians can climb the coconut without a ladder, there is no such limit, and the accessions could be conserved for at least 50 years, if there are enough living palms.

Nursery site selection

  • Rear seedlings in a well-maintained nursery to produce normal uniform plants. The nursery should be open, level and well-drained with light or loose-textured soil and far from sources of insect pests and diseases. Find a nursery site with a minimum area of 3600 m2 to accommodate about 12 000 seed nuts for planting on 50 ha.

Field selection

  • Prepare the field with access roads, surface drainage and soil conservation measures to prevent erosion. Fence the field to protect seedlings from animals.

Preparation of planting material

  • Harvest seed nuts manually at a minimum of 11 months after controlled pollination (see below). The bunch is ready for harvesting when at least one nut has a brown husk or if the water inside the nut cavity sloshes around when shaken.
  • Harvest seed nuts every 2 months for tall accessions and every month for dwarf accessions.
  • Store seed nuts in the shade to complete the maturation process. Maturation is reached when the husk becomes dry after about 2 weeks. The fruits have no dormancy and so cannot be stored for long.

Propagule type, size and amount

  • Keep extra seed nuts from the controlled pollinations for back up as only about 65% will result in seedlings for transfer to the field. While most cultivars produce about 100 nuts per palm per year under natural conditions, the yield is much less with controlled pollination; a mother palm may not produce more than 20 fruits per year. However, yield can be improved if you remove the older bunches from the palms before starting the controlled pollination programme.

Method of regeneration

For most talls and some dwarf cultivars, a high rate of natural pollination between accessions results in seed nuts that are not true to type. Where the accessions are planted in isolation (for instance, a unique accession planted in an isolated valley or on a small island at a distance of at least 600 m from other coconut palms), seed nuts from open pollination provide true-to-type seed nuts and can be used to regenerate accessions.
Natural pollination can be used to regenerate a few dwarf accessions. For example, 95% of yellow and red dwarfs are autogamous (self-pollinating) and the yellow or red colour of the sprout of the germinated seed nuts can be used as a genetic marker to eliminate off-types.
For all other varieties (all tall types and the green dwarfs), use controlled pollination, with the requisite isolation, bagging and pollination of the inflorescences. Controlled pollination, in which an individual identified palm is crossed with designated individual female palms, is a labour-intensive and costly technique, requiring a well-organized and trained team of technicians, a well-equipped laboratory for pollen processing and supervision by an experienced researcher.

Pollination mechanism

Selection of male and female parents

  • Randomly select true-to-type parents among the palms bearing inflorescences that are ready to open after a month, at the right stage for controlled pollination. For regenerating a tall accession, choose 48 female parents and 24 male parents (a convenient number according to the available size of the accession and the planned duration of the controlled pollination programme). If possible, use different male and female parents. If not, try to keep the palms used as both male and female to a minimum.

Pollen collection

  • This involves isolating the inflorescence in order to obtain pollen of the highest genetic purity; harvesting male flowers; preparing and conditioning the pollen to prolong and maintain high viability; and pollen quality control (see photos below)
  • For allogamous and partially allogamous varieties, bag the inflorescences on the day the spathe opens. In the case of autogamous (dwarf) varieties in which the male phase starts as soon as the spathe opens naturally, put the bag on 72 to 48 hours before the presumed date of opening. A safety margin of 8 days between bagging the inflorescence and harvesting the pollen is sufficient to ensure the death of virtually all the pollen grains which were on the inflorescence when it was bagged. The few which might still be viable at the time would not survive the preparation and conditioning of the pollen.
  • To bag the inflorescence, cut the spathe at the base, opening it first if it has not yet been done (in the case of autogamous plants). Surround the peduncle of the inflorescence with a wad of cotton impregnated with insecticide and spray the inflorescence with an insecticide. Taking care not to knock off the male flowers, fit the plastic bag over the inflorescence with the opening towards the base of the peduncle.
  • Pleat the open end of the bag and then tie it with the cotton wad and a rubber band to stop insects from getting in. Also tie the sleeve with a rubber band and keep the plastic bag rolled up with tape.

Drying coconut pollen. (photo: Fonana Youssouf)

Conditioning coconut pollen in a freezer. (photo: Fonana Youssouf)

Isolation of female and male flowers:

  • Isolate the inflorescence at least 8 days before the female flowers start becoming receptive. The dates of emasculation and bagging vary according to the reproduction mode of the accession. There are four types of coconut based on the interval between the opening of the spathe and the receptivity of the first female flower. Type I and II (22–24 day interval; emasculation 5 days after spathe opening; bagging 3 days later); Type III (0 interval; emasculation and bagging 48 hours before natural opening); and Type IV (emasculation the day of natural opening; bagging 3 days later). For types I and II, it is possible to bag and collect the pollen and then bag the same inflorescence again to use it as female for controlled pollination.
  • It is very important that no female flower should be receptive at the time of bagging. Remove female flowers close to receptivity before placing the bag. As the presence of the bag has a strong depressive effect on fruit set, do not bag the inflorescences too early.

Hand pollinating a female coconut flower. (photo: Fonana Youssouf)

Controlled pollination

  • Prepare the pollen–talc mixture and pollinate by hand when most of the flowers have their stigmata open and are secreting nectar (see photo). When flowering lasts for 3–4 days and the female flowers are receptive for 2 days, one pollination is sufficient (this is the case with tall cultivars). When flowering lasts about 14 days and the female flowers are receptive for not more than 2 days, three pollinations will be required at 3-day intervals.
  • Male parent 1 is used to pollinate female parents 1 and 2; male parent 2 is used to pollinate female 2 and 3; and so on, following the sequential double pair mating procedure. Each of these 48 crosses is made twice, for a total of 96 controlled pollinations. These pollinations will result in 110–130 seed nuts needed to plant 75 seedlings in the field (after seedbed and nursery selection and taking account that not all the seed nuts will germinate). About 4 months is needed for this controlled pollination process, including pollen harvest, bagging of the inflorescences, pollination and removing the bags.
  • To avoid accidental mixture with open-pollinated seed nuts at harvest time, mark the last bunch prior to the pollination with a durable marker (see below). It is best to remove all older bunches prior to the controlled pollination. This way only the controlled pollinated nuts will develop and errors will be eliminated. It is also important to tag the bunch at the last spikelet in the peduncle with aluminum and copper wire tags (not galvanized iron sheet and wires) which include the palm identification numbers of the parents used.

Harvested coconut seednuts (photo: Fonana Youssouf)

Labelling

  • One year is required between pollination and harvest and another year for the plant to grow in the nursery. So, it is necessary to have labels that can withstand time and vagaries of weather.
  • On the tree, mark the fruits with a felt-tipped pen with indelible black ink. At harvest, attach an aluminium label engraved with the same artificial pollination number to each fruit, by a copper wire (see photo) In the nursery, attach a second aluminium label with the same number to a leaf of the seedling. Avoid writing on the plastic bag.
  • Mark seed nuts on the mother palm 7–8 months after pollination.

Planting

The seedbed

  • Clear the seedbed before ploughing and harrowing it to a fine tilth. Seedbeds should be 10–20 cm high, 1 m wide and 2 m long with 1 m between beds.
  • Slice off the small part of the top of the husk to help retain moisture in the husk during watering and to encourage germination.
  • Plant nuts close to one another and cover them with soil, with about two-thirds of their size buried to prevent them from floating in case of heavy rains.
  • Maintain seedbeds with daily watering and partial shading, and inspect for disease and pest incidence.
  • When the sprout emerges through the husk to a height of 4–6 cm, trim seedlings of any injured roots and plant in polybags filled with appropriate soil–manure mixture.

A polybag nursery. (photo: ML George)

The polybag nursery

  • Place the germinated nut in a bag half-filled with soil, with the sprout upright in the centre of the bag, then top the bag up with soil.
  • Lay out the polybag nursery to enable equal setting of the seedlings at optimum distance, following a triangular system with equal spacing of 60cm (see photo).
  • Set out the polybagged seedlings in the same order as they germinated. Place the earliest germinating seedlings in the first row in the eastern side of the area and the later germinating seedlings on the western side to reduce competition for sunlight.
  • Apply fertilizer 2 months after germination (20g (NH4)2SO4 + 30 g KCl or NaCl per seedling) and 5 months after germination (40g (NH4)2SO4 + 60g KCl per seedling).
  • The seedlings are transplanted to the field after 8–10 months, when leaf splitting occurs.

Land preparation

  • Cut down thick vegetation, clear debris, then plough and harrow to improve soil tilth.

Planting layout, density and distance

  • To facilitate the identification of palm pedigrees, prepare a planting map where the plots are identified to show the spots where specific palms are to be planted.
  • Density of palms depends on the type of accession. Talls should be planted at a density of 143 palms/ha with a spacing of 9m between palms and 7.5m between rows. Dwarfs should be planted at a density of 205 palms/ha with a spacing of 6.5m between palms and 5.6 m between rows.

Planting method

  • Select normal looking, pest- and disease-free, vigorous seedlings.
  • Dig holes of 50 x 50 x 50 cm and allow about 2 months for weathering of the soil before planting in order to encourage early root–soil contact.
  • Apply fertilizer mixed with soil to each hole before transplanting.
  • Cover the base of the crown with loose topsoil, slightly firmed at the base of the crown.
  • The top of the nut must be about 5–8 cm below the ground level. Make a slight depression towards the base of the crown to trap rainwater.
  • After planting, record the pollination numbers in a plot map and check again by verifying the male and female parent of each palm in the field to ensure that the correct pedigree is planted. The palms with the wrong or uncertain pedigree should be replaced by a correct pedigree. This field check also allows calculation of the number of female and male parents that were used to rejuvenate the accession. This is important because information on the number of female and male parents initially used in the controlled pollination program is not sufficient; some of these parent palms may not have living progeny in the field.

Crop management

Weed management

  • Weed every 4 months when there is a cover crop like Pueraria javanica. Otherwise, weed every 3 months or when necessary depending on the speed of weed growth.

Irrigation

  • Provide irrigation when rainfall is limiting or during the dry season when the water deficit is over 50 mm for the month.

Fertilization

  • Apply fertilizer (NPK + Mg) 1 year after planting based on the results of leaf analyses, and every year after that.
  • Apply fertilizer at the onset of the rainy season.
  • If using organic matter instead of mineral fertilizer, determine its mineral content before use to ensure that the palms are adequately fertilized.

Pest and disease control

  • Visit the field twice a week (young plantation) or once a month (adult plantation) to monitor and control pests or diseases. Apply mechanical, chemical or biological treatment depending on the pest on advice by your plant health expert.

Harvesting

  • Harvest seed nuts monthly, 11 months after pollination. All the nuts collected per pollination and per inflorescence should be grouped together to avoid mixing of the seed nuts.
  • Take fruit to the nursery straight away and store in the shade to complete the maturation process. Never leave them in the plantation overnight in case of accidental mixing or loss.
  • When colour coding and collection of hybrid seed nuts are complete, prepare a report of the harvest. State the number of nuts harvested per pollination number, the female palm numbers, and the respective colour codes used per crossing plan.

Monitoring accession identity

Many errors can occur with crosses from controlled pollinations and so the following controls should be put in place:

  • Carefully record pollinations and harvesting. Record the unique number, given to each pollination and representing the exact pedigree of each seed nut, in a register or computer file.
  • Using the Coconut Data Management (CDM) software and a planting map (see section on planting layout) can also help identify palm pedigrees.
  • Replace plants which have lost their pollination numbers during transfer to the field with others of known pedigree.
  • Detect off-types by their special traits, e.g. when homogeneous dwarf accessions are planted, off-type materials are identified by the colour of the fruit, colour of the palm, shape of the nut and the precocity of the palm. For tall accessions, special traits are the shape of the nut and vegetative characters (size of leaf, inflorescence, bunch and speed of growth), different colours of the root tips, the purplish colour of the mesocarp of some varieties or the sweet husk of immature nuts. When off-types are suspected, molecular markers can be used to check.
  • Identify off-type materials at the nursery level by distinguishing features such as speed of germination and the colour of the palm. After planting in the field, mark the palm by painting the trunk to avoid any error during the observation. If the off-type is identified during the first two years after planting, replace it with legitimate material.

References and further reading

Bioversity International, CIRAD. 2009. Key access and utilization descriptors for coconut genetic resources. Bioversity International, Rome, Italy; French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development, Montpellier, France. Available here.

CIRAD, COGENT, IPGRI. 2000. Coconut Data Management (CDM) manual, version 3.
Konan J-L, Bourdeix R, Batugal P. 2005. Production and provision of hybrid seednuts. Coconut hybrids for smallholders. CFC Technical Paper No. 42. pp. 12–25.
Nuce de Lamothe M de, Rognon F. 1975. Pollinisation assistée et contamination par des pollens indésirables . Oléagineux 30:8–9, 359–364.
Nuce de Lamothe M de, Wuidart W, Rognon F, Sangare A. 1980. La fécondation artificielle du cocotier . Oléagineux 35:193–205.
Rognon F. 1976. Biologie florale du cocotier. Durée et succession des phases mâles et femelles chez divers types de cocotiers. Oléagineux 31:13–18.
Sangare A, Rognon F, Nuce de Lamothe M de. 1978. Les phases mâles et femelles de l’inflorescence du cocotier. Influence sur le mode de reproduction . Oléagineux 33:609–617.
Santos GA, Batugal PA, Othman A, Baudouin L, Labouisse JP, editors. 1996. Manual on Standardized Research Techniques in Coconut Breeding. IPGRI, Rome, Italy. The web version is available from: URL: www2.bioversityinternational.org/publications/Web_version/108/. Date accessed: 20 July 2010.

Acknowledgement

These guidelines have been peer reviewed by V. Ramanatha Rao, India, and Gerardo A. Santos, Philippines.

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The Growth Stages of a Coconut Palm Tree

coconut image by Anujit Kraikungwar from Fotolia.com

Coconut palm trees grow in many subtropical and tropical locations in the world that don’t experience freezing temperatures. Coconut palm and their fruits have been a valuable source of food for humans and animals alike for thousands of years. At the center of the seed is a hard nut that contains a liquid or milk providing the necessary moisture and nutrients the seed needs to germinate.

Coconut Seed

The coconut seed is a nut surrounded by a fibrous growth with a smooth outer layer. The fibrous growth covering, or husk, allows the seed to remain buoyant and float over miles of sea to a new location. Most of the time, however, the coconut seed sprouts at the base of the coconut tree where it originated.

Newly Sprouted Plant

After the coconut has laid partially buried in sand or soil, it begins to germinate or sprout. The first leaves come from the three soft holes that are located at the end of the nut. They are called entire leaves because they do not have the frond-like appearance of a typical palm leaf. The new plant continues to absorb the moisture and nutrients located in the brown nut during its first year of life.

Juvenile Plant

During the period between sprouting and first flower formation, the juvenile plant grows rapidly and produces the typical pinnate or feathery leaves most often seen on a palm tree.

Coconut Flowers

At about five or six years of age, the coconut palm tree begins to produce clusters of flowers in the area where the leaves come together near the trunk, also known as the axil. New fruits are formed on the flowers, but many fall off before maturing or are eaten by animals. The ones that survive turn into coconuts in about nine months. Each coconut palm tree produces about 50 coconuts per plant. When the seeds are mature, the stems holding the seeds dry, become brittle and break. Then, the seeds are deposited at the base of the mature palm tree.

How to Draw a Coconut Palm Tree

In this quick tutorial you’ll learn how to draw a Coconut Palm Tree in 4 easy steps – great for kids and novice artists.

The images above represents how your finished drawing is going to look and the steps involved.

Below are the individual steps – you can click on each one for a High Resolution printable PDF version.

At the bottom you can read some interesting facts about the Coconut Palm Tree.

Make sure you also check out any of the hundreds of drawing tutorials grouped by category.

How to Draw a Coconut Palm Tree – Step-by-Step Tutorial

Step 1: Start by drawing the roots of the tree. Draw a few slanted lines next to each other that all connect at the top.

Step 2: Now, draw the trunk. Draw small upside down trapezoids all connect to each other in a slanted line.

Step 3: Then, draw the fruit. Draw a circle at the top of your trunk. Behind it, draw two half circles so it looks like you have three fruits.

Step 4: Finish up by drawing the leaves. Coming out of the bottom of your fruit, draw a jagged line. Draw another jagged line that is curved but connects to the top and bottom of your first line. Draw a long slightly curved line through the middle. Repeat these steps to create multiple leaves coming out all around the top of your trunk.

Interesting Facts about Coconut Palm Trees

Coconut Palm Trees are the tree everyone thinks about when they think of a deserted island. The tree can grow up to 98 feet tall and live for 100 years! The Coconut Palm Tree leaves are classic palm leaves. They grow from a crown at the top of the tree and leave a ring of dead leaves as they die. A Coconut Palm Tree leave can grow up to 20 feet ling! Coconut Palm Trees grow in tropical areas like Malaysia, Southeast Asia, India, South America, and the South Pacific islands.

Did you know?

  • Coconuts are used for food, drinks, and even eating utensils on some tropical islands.
  • Coconuts got their name because the fruit had 3 holes in the shell and Portuguese sailors thought it had a face. “Coco” is Portuguese for “grin.”
  • Coconuts are ready to be planted for new trees when there is a sloshing sound inside them when you shake them.
  • Coconut Palm Trees produce 75 fruits a year.
  • There are 150 species of Coconut Palm Trees.
  • During World War 2, coconut water would be used in the Pacific Theatre to do emergency blood transfusion.

Theme: Turn your classroom into a tropical island. Do a class craft where your students make palm trees out of construction paper. Then hang the paper trees up on the big island day!

How to Draw a Coconut Palm Tree – Step-by-Step Tutorial

Everyday Mysteries

Peace Corps Flickr Photostream.

Interesting Coconut Facts

  • Every bit of the coconut is used. As a result, coconuts are called the “Tree of Life” and can produce drink, fiber, food, fuel, utensils, musical instruments, and much more.
  • When intra-venous (IV) solution was in short supply, doctors during World War II and Vietnam used coconut water in substitution of IV solutions.
  • Botanically, the coconut palm is not a tree since there is no bark, no branches, or secondary growth. A coconut palm is a woody perennial monocotyledon with the trunk being the stem.
  • Possibly the oldest reference is from Cosmas, a 5th century AD Egyptian traveler. He wrote about the “Indian nut” or “nut of India” after visiting India and Ceylon. Some scholars believe Cosmas was describing a coconut.
  • Soleyman, an Arab merchant, visited China in the 9th century and describes the use of coir fiber and toddy made from coconuts.
  • In the 16th century, Sir Francis Drake called coconut “nargils”, which was the common term used until the 1700’s when the word coconut was established.
  • It takes 11 -12 months for the coconut to mature.
  • At one time scientists identified over 60 species of Cocos palm. Today, the coconut is a monotypic with one species, nucifera. However, there are over 80 varieties of coconut palms, which are defined by characteristics such as dwarf and tall.
  • Coconut growing regions are as far north as Hawaii and as far south as Madagascar.

It’s a fruit! It’s a nut! It’s a seed! It’s a Coconut?

Recently, I have received a lot of emails from readers who are interested in adding coconut oil to their diets but are allergic to tree nuts. They are curious to learn if coconuts are an allergen for those allergic to tree nuts.

Botanically speaking, a coconut is a fibrous one-seeded drupe, also known as a dry drupe. A drupe is a fruit with a hard stony covering enclosing the seed (like a peach or olive) and comes from the word drupa meaning overripe olive. A coconut, and all drupes, have three layers: the exocarp (outer layer), the mesocarp (fleshy middle layer), and the endocarp (hard, woody layer that surrounds the seed).

If you were to look up into a coconut palm tree, you would see a true, raw coconut. The outermost layer is typically smooth with a greenish color. The middle layer is the fibrous husk which surrounds the hard woody layer (endocarp). The endocarp surrounds the seed. Generally speaking, when you buy a coconut at the supermarket what you see is the endocarp. So clearly, a coconut is a fruit, more specifically a drupe.

The word coconut is confusing because the word “nut” is contained in the name. A nut can be defined as a one- seeded fruit. With that loose definition, a coconut can also be a nut. However, it is not a true nut. A true nut, such as the walnut, does not open at maturity to release its seeds. The seeds are released when the fruit wall decays or is digested by an animal.

Confused much?

I like to think of the coconut as a seed.

Unless it is picked, a matured coconut eventually drops from the tree. The fully developed hard shell does not crack easily. Dry and brown, the coconut may sit underneath the tree for months and appear as if it were dead, until one day a green shoot pushes its way out of the shell.

The whole time the old coconut has been sitting under the tree, changes have been slowly taking place inside. At one end of the coconut (where the three holes, called eyes are), an embryo starts growing, feeding off the juice and nutrition of the thick white flesh. This embryo develops into a creamy mass that gradually fills much of the empty space inside. (You can actually eat this. It is somewhat spongy and less fibrous than the matured meat and pretty sweet). The embryo eventually sprouts out of the shell and becomes a young coconut seedling. At this point, the plant can survive for several more weeks or months on the food and water inside as roots gradually develop and extend out of the shell to anchor the plant in the ground.

See why I like to believe it is a seed? Do you know of anything else besides a seed that can do all of that?

Unfortunately, I cannot avoid the botany behind all of this and therefore, coconuts are really a fruit.

Is Coconut Safe For People With Tree Nut Allergies?

It has typically not been restricted in the diets of people with tree nut allergy. However, in October of 2006, the Food and Drug Association (FDA) began identifying coconut as a tree nut, adding it to the list of tree nut allergens. Talk about making someone’s head spin.

The fact of the matter is coconuts are not tree nuts but are drupes (fruit) from the monocotyledonous plants of the palm family Arecaceae. Nut bearing trees, on the other hand, are dicots and are only distantly related to the palm species. Booyah!

So there you have it. Coconuts are definitely not nuts! Although I still question fruit versus seed? 😉

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