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Facts About the Coconut Tree: Description and Uses

A graduate in botany, Nithya Venkat enjoys writing about plants that help sustain life on planet Earth.

Coconut Tree

Coconut Tree

The coconut tree can indeed be called the all-giving tree of life. Every part of the tree is utilized in some form or the other.

Coconut trees need a lot of sunlight and well-aerated soil to flourish. They can be found growing in aerated sandy soil near the shorelines, as they are not affected by the salinity of the seawater. They grow well in tropical regions where the climate is hot and humid and has abundant rainfall.

They are grown in abundance in India, Sri Lanka, the Hawaiian Islands, Polynesia, Philippines, Malaysia, South America, Brazil, Florida, and California.

Scientific Classification

  • Division: Magnoliophyta
  • Class: Liliopsida
  • Order: Arecales
  • Family: Arecaceae
  • Genus: Cocos
  • Species: Nucifera
Unripe Coconuts With the Fibrous Covering

Unripe Coconuts With the Fibrous Covering

Types of Coconut Trees

Coconut trees can be classified into two types based on the height.

Tall Palms

Tall palms are widely planted for household and commercial purposes and grow to a height of 20–30 meters. They mature and flower 6–10 years after planting and live for about 60–70 years.

Dwarf Palms

Dwarf palms are short and are 8–10 meters when they are 20 years old. They begin to bear fruit in the third year after planting, but they have a short productive life of 30–40 years.

A Broken Coconut

A Broken Coconut

Description of the Coconut Tree

The scientific name of the coconut tree is Cocos nucifera. It belongs to the palm family (Arecaceae). It has a thick solid trunk and grows up to a height of 30 meters. The tree has a crown of leaves at the topmost part of the trunk.

The coconut tree has a fibrous root system that grows just below the surface of the soil in a mass from the base of the tree. Only a few of the roots penetrate the soil for stability.

The coconut palm has an erect or slightly curved stem that grows from a swollen base. The stem is smooth, light gray, and has prominent leaf scars. The stem is topped with a crown of 60–70 spirally arranged leaves. The leaves are up to 7 meters in length, pinnately divided, and composed of 200–250 tapering leaflets.

The coconut fruit is a fibrous, one-seeded drupe (a drupe is a fruit with a hard stony covering enclosing the seed). It is oval and green in color when it is unripe. As the fruit ripens, it turns yellow to reddish-yellow.

Coconut Inforescence

Coconut Inforescence

The coconut inflorescence is enclosed in a double sheath or spathe; the entire structure is known as the spadix. The spadix is borne in the axil of the leaves.

The coconut palm is monoecious (its inflorescence carries both male and female flowers.) The male flowers are borne on the top portion of the spikelet, and the female flowers are situated at the base of the spikelet.

Structure of the Coconut Fruit

Structure of the Coconut Fruit

Coconut Fruit Structure

Pollination takes place by insects and ants. Once pollination and fertilization occur, fruits begin to form and mature in about 12 months, or less than a year in some dwarf varieties.

The fruit of the coconut is a large drupe composed of a smooth outer layer (exocarp) that can be green to red-brown, a thick fibrous middle layer (mesocarp), and a hard inner layer (endocarp).

The coat (mesocarp) is white and firm in the young coconut; as it matures, it becomes a fibrous mass from which coir is obtained. Within the fibrous mass is the nut with a hard shell (endocarp) that encloses the kernel (endosperm).

Between the shell and the kernel is a thin brown seed coat that adheres firmly to the kernel, which is the white flesh that is about 12 mm thick lining the central cavity containing the coconut water.

Medicinal Uses of the Coconut Tree

Coconut water is an excellent source of hydration for the body. It is low in fat and cholesterol content. It's rich in chloride and potassium and contains natural sugars. It is readily absorbed into the blood, being an isotonic electrolyte.

Coconut water can potentially boost metabolism, aid digestion, and cleanse and detoxify the blood.

Benefits of Coconut Oil for the Skin

If the nut remains on the tree and continues to ripen, the outside becomes harder. The fleshy inner lining thickens, and the coconut water becomes tasteless. The thickened layer is called copra. The copra is used to extract coconut oil. This oil is used for cooking and in making margarine, cosmetics, soaps, and candles.

  • It's an excellent moisturizer and can be used to treat many skin conditions, such as acne, eczema, and psoriasis—and thus it can be found in many cosmetic products.
  • It relieves minor insect bite irritations and reduces inflammation of the skin.
  • It's loaded with antioxidants that help to prevent aging of the skin.
  • It smooths dry and chapped skin.
  • It helps protect the skin from the harmful rays of the sun.

Other Uses of the Coconut Tree

Let's take a look at some of the many uses for each part of the coconut tree.

Trunk

The trunk of the tree produces porcupine wood that is used as a building material for canoes, poles, rafters, and fences.

Leaves

The huge leaves are woven together to make thatched roofs.

Husk

The fibrous husk of the coconut, also known as coir, is used for making cushions, mattresses, ropes, brushes, and stuffing fiber.

It is extensively used in horticulture for making potting compost.

Midribs

The thick central midribs of the coconut leaves are used to make baskets and mats for tying logs together.

Meat

The thick, white, fleshy layer of the coconut is used in cooking to make a variety of dishes. It is also eaten plain and used to make salads.

Coconut milk is also extracted from the white fleshy part of the coconut. This milk is used to flavor soups, snacks, and vegetables.

The remaining coconut chunks from coconut milk production are used as cattle feed.

Sap

The sap of the coconut tree is used to make an alcoholic drink (tuba). This sap is also used to make wine and vinegar.

Roots

The roots are used to make natural dyes and herbal medicines.

Shells

The empty shells are used to make wooden bowls or coconut jewelry such as beads, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and bangles. They are also carved out to create coconut buttons for Hawaiian aloha shirts.

They are a good source of charcoal and are widely used as an industrial and stove fuel, as well as for gas masks and air filters. Activated charcoal is also produced from the coconut shell.

Shells are also used to buff floors.

Finally, they are commonly used to make musical instruments, such as: Hawaiian Niuu Kani Ukulele, Hawaiian Knee Drum, Ektara, Kalimba, etc.

References

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Nithya Venkat

Comments

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 03, 2013:

Oh yes, it is delicious. Thank you for stopping by.

Alex Munkachy from Honolulu, Hawaii on May 02, 2013:

There is no other drink quite like drinking ice cold coconut water directly out of a chilled young coconut cracked open with a machete.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 01, 2013:

sunnilkunnoth2012 thank you for stopping by, Kerala is God's own country.

Sunil Kumar Kunnoth from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India) on April 30, 2013:

Dear

Wonderful article and thanks for sharing your knowledge. As I am coming from Kerala, a land rich with coconut trees, the topic interests me a lot. For your info, I have written a hub on the topic with title: Kerala, the Land of Coconut Trees. If you have time pls visit the same.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on December 16, 2012:

Ingnugent thank you for stopping by,coconut is very useful and is good for health too.

Thelma Alberts anything cooked with coconut as an ingredient tastes delicious. Thank you for stopping by.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on December 16, 2012:

ingnugent17 thank you for stopping by. Coconut is really too good!! Thanks for the vote up too.

Thelma Alberts me too, thank you for stopping by and the vote. Sweets dishes made from coconut is really awesome!!

Thelma Alberts from Germany on December 16, 2012:

Very informative hub. I´m fond of coconut specially drinking the fresh coconut water and using the coconut milk in cooking. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and more;-)

ignugent17 on December 16, 2012:

Coconut is really a wonderful tree. Thanks for sharing the information.

Voted up and useful.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on December 16, 2012:

rajan jolly thank you for stopping by, thanks for the vote and share.

vnsatakopan thank you, I love to drink coconut water. You get the very best in Kerala.

Angelo52, yes the raw coconut scrapings taste great, thank you for stopping by.

Angelo52 on December 16, 2012:

Sure are a lot of things that can be done with the coconut and it's tree. I like eating the flesh raw.

Dr.Vangeepuram Navaneetham Satakopan from Chennai, India on December 16, 2012:

Very interesting hub on the various uses of the coconut tree. I am a big fan of coconut milk. Voted up.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on December 15, 2012:

This is fine hub on the multi uses of the coconut fruit and tree. Voted up and useful and shared.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on December 10, 2012:

iguidenetwork thank you for reading and the vote up. Yes it would be nice if you could have it in your place.

tattuwurn I love them too!! Coconuts are awesome to include in dishes and to make desserts!!!

iguidenetwork from Austin, TX on December 10, 2012:

Thanks for writing about this wonderful plant. I do wish we have here though. Voted up and useful/interesting.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on October 02, 2012:

Vinodkpillai you are so right, it is a true Kalpavruksha. Am happy my hub brought back great memories, thank you for stopping by.

Vinod from Hyderabad, India on September 30, 2012:

Excellent hub Nithya! I have grown up among coconut palms and your hub with its beautiful pictures brought back memories of coconut fronds swaying in the monsoon winds. It's such a useful tree that it's no wonder that it is referred to as kalpavruksha!

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on July 09, 2012:

RTalloni thanks for stopping by.

RTalloni on July 05, 2012:

An interesting look at a very important plant--thanks.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 10, 2012:

snowdrops coconut trees are very useful, thank you.

snowdrops from The Second Star to the Right on May 10, 2012:

coconut - the tree of life. Nice and very interesting hub with full of information.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 06, 2012:

Movie Master thank you for your apprecaition and votes. Thanks for sharing too, very much elated.

Victoria Lynn coconut oil really helps with all skin problems. Thanks for stopping by.

Victoria Lynn from Arkansas, USA on May 06, 2012:

Well presented hub! I've been giving coconut oil to my dog. He laps it up, and it helps his itching problems immensely! I think it's neat how all of the coconut and plant are used. Well done!

Movie Master from United Kingdom on May 06, 2012:

Hi Vellur, thank you for this wonderful hub, you have covered so much!

I always use coconut oil and love coconut water - The ice cream sounds delicious!

Voting up and shared.

Best wishes Lesley

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 06, 2012:

KatrineDalMonte thank you for your appreciation and a thoughtful comment.

KatrineDalMonte on May 06, 2012:

What an excellent hub. I use lots of skincare products made from the coconut extracts as I know its benefits, but I have never given much thought as to the facts about where it all comes from. Your article is well constructed with great information explaining the backgrounds. Thanks for sharing.

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 05, 2012:

Pollyannalana the coconut shake sounds delicious, thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

Pollyannalana from US on May 05, 2012:

I have coconut oil but just look at it and wonder what to do with it. Now I guess I will just rub it on my face! I love coconut. Sonic has a new coconut shake that is fantastic. You can eat it with the straw!

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 05, 2012:

teaches12345 coconut is really delicious and the coconut water is amazing.Thank you for reading and leaving an insightful comment.

Dianna Mendez on May 05, 2012:

I have two coconut trees in my front yard, the tall kind. They do indeed provide us with many benefits, and as you posted, they are a tree of life. Thanks for the interesting and useful information. I didn't realize that they were used to make things such as boats. The coconut mango ice cream sounds yummy and the musical video was quite interesting (they make such pretty tunes).

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 05, 2012:

glmclendon thank you for your appreciation. It's great to share knowledge with others.

glmclendon on May 05, 2012:

Great teaching hub. It seems that a lot of hard work was put into this and I could feel it while reading it. Excellent job.

Stay Well

Nithya Venkat (author) from Dubai on May 05, 2012:

cclitgirl thank you for your appreciation and votes. I use coconut oil a lot for my skin.

Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on May 05, 2012:

Awesome, comprehensive hub!! I love using coconut oil as moisturizer. I just buy it in the cooking oil section of the store and moisturize my face and feet with it. It has antifungal properties, too. :) I learned a lot more about coconut than I ever knew before in this hub. Many votes. :)

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