The coconut palm is grown throughout the tropical world, for decoration as well as for its many culinary and non-culinary uses; virtually every part of the coconut palm has some human uses. In cooler climates (but not less than USDA Zone 9), a similar palm, the Queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana) is used in urban landscaping. Its fruit are very similar to the coconut albeit much smaller. It was originally classified in Cocos genus along with the coconut, but was later moved to Syagrus. A recently discovered palm, Beccariophoenix alfredii from Madagascar is nearly identical to the Coconut, even more than the Queen palm. It is quite cold-hardy and makes the perfect Coconut-lookalike for many cooler areas all over the world.
The coconut has spread across much of the tropics, probably aided in many cases by seafaring people. Coconut fruit in the wild is light, buoyant and highly water resistant and evolved to disperse significant distances via marine currents. Such fruits collected from the sea as far north as Norway have been found to be viable, subsequently germinating under the right conditions. In the Hawaiian Islands, the coconut is regarded as a Polynesian introduction, first brought to the islands by early Polynesian voyagers from their homelands in the South Pacific. They are now almost ubiquitous between 26°N and 26°S except for the interiors of Africa and South America.
The flowers of the coconut palm are polygamomonoecious, with both male and female flowers in the same inflorescence. Flowering occurs continuously, with female flowers producing seeds. Coconut palms are believed to be largely cross-pollinated, although some dwarf varieties are self-pollinating. The “nut” of the coconut is the edible endosperm, located on the inner surface of the shell. Inside the endosperm layer, coconuts contain an edible clear liquid that is sweet or salty or both sweet and salty.
Coconuts received the name from Portuguese explorers, the sailors of Vasco da Gama in India, who first brought them to Europe. The brown and hairy surface of coconuts reminded them of a ghost (or witch) called coco (known in castillian as El coco). When coconuts arrived in England, they retained the coco name and the suffix -nut was added.
oconuts are susceptible to the phytoplasma disease lethal yellowing. One recently selected cultivar, ‘Maypan’, has been bred for resistance to this disease. The fruit may also be damaged by eriophyid coconut mites. The coconut is also used as a food plant by the larvae of many Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) species, including Batrachedra spp: B. arenosella, B. atriloqua (feeds exclusively on Cocos nucifera), B. mathesoni (feeds exclusively on Cocos nucifera), and B. nuciferae.
Brontispa longissima (the “Coconut leaf beetle”) feeds on young leaves and damages seedlings and mature coconut palms. On September 27, 2007, Philippines’ Metro Manila and 26 provinces were quarantined due to having been infested with this pest (to save the $800-million Philippine coconut industry). In Kerala the major pests of Coconut are the Eriophyid mite, the Rhinoceros Beetle, the Red Palm Weevil and the Coconut Leaf caterpillar. The Eriophyid coconut mite (Eriophyes guerreronis) is devastating and can cause damages up to 90% in coconut production. The immature nuts are infested and desapped by staying in the portion covered by the Perianth of the immature nut. Subsequently the nuts drop off or survive deformed. Spraying with Wettable Sulfur 0.4% alternately with neem based pesticides can give some relief, but is cumbersome and labor intensive. Research on this topic gave no results and the researchers from the Kerala Agricultural University and the Central Plantation Crop Research Institute, Kasaragode are still searching for a cure. The /Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Kannur under Kerala Agricultural University has developed an innovative extension approach called Compact area group approach (CAGA) to combat coconut mites.
Growing in the United States
The only states in the U.S. where coconut palms can be grown and reproduced outdoors without irrigation are Hawaii and south Florida. Coconut palms will grow from St. Petersburg southwards on Florida’s west coast, and Melbourne southwards on Florida’s east coast. The occasional coconut palm is seen north of these areas in favoured microclimates in the Tampa and Clearwater metro area and around Cape Canaveral, as well as the Orlando-Kissimmee-Daytona Beach metro area. They may likewise be grown in favored microclimates in the Rio Grande Valley area of Deep South Texas near Brownsville and on Galveston Island. They may reach fruiting maturity, but are damaged or killed by the occasional winter freezes in these areas. While coconut palms flourish in south Florida, unusually bitter cold snaps can kill or injure coconut palms there as well. Only the Florida Keys and the coastlines provide safe havens from the cold for growing coconut palms on the U.S. mainland.
The farthest north in the United States a coconut palm has been known to grow outdoors is in Newport Beach, California along the Pacific Coast Highway. For coconut palms to survive in Southern California, they need sandy soil and minimal water in the winter to prevent root rot, and would benefit from root heating coils.
Coconut production in the Middle East
The main coconut producing area in the Middle East is the Dhofar region of Oman. In particular, the area around Salalah maintains large coconut plantations similar to those found across the Arabian Sea. The large coconut groves of Dhofar were mentioned by the medieval Moroccan traveller Ibn Battuta in his writings, known as Al Rihla. This is possible due to an annual rainy season known locally as Khareef. Coconuts also are increasingly grown for decorative purposes along the coasts of UAE and Saudi Arabia with the help of irrigation. The UAE has, however, imposed strict laws on mature coconut tree imports from other countries to reduce the spread of pests to other native palm trees such as the date palm.