In the shade of the coconut palm

Borneo wild beachThe coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) instantly evokes visions of golden beaches and azure skies – as seen in postcards or experienced during exotic holidays.  This is a true epitome of ultimate holidays. Most of people, who dream to stretch out on golden sand underneath this majestic palm, know very little about this plant – all they know, is that the palm casts a welcome shadow on a beach, while the coconut provides sweet “coconut milk” and the edible white flesh.

Coconut palms grow up to 18 m tall and truly belong to distant beaches – where the air is damp and the sunlight is plentiful. They are immune to salty water, and they do not mind poor growing conditions. Miniature coconut palms can be successfully grown indoors.

When we come across coconut palms sold in garden centres, the coconuts are usually planted on their side. However, American growers advise to plant them vertically. According to them, the coconut should be planted with its pointed end down, while the end which was attached to the tree should be left above the surface by a third. Other coconut palm growers maintain that the coconut should be laid on a flat surface or floor – it is supposed to roll on the side, whichever is the most appropriate for planting.

The planting mix should be light and well-drained – a mixture of compost and sand (1:1) is ideal. The pot should be by 5 cm larger than the coconut, and sufficiently deep. Prior to planting, soak the coconut in water for 2 to 3 days. Having planted the coconut, keep it warm (23-30oC) and moist. Spay the coconut often, or place a plastic bag around it to ensure humidity. Water the soil as necessary – it should be constantly moist, not too dry and not too soggy. If too dry, the coconut will not germinate; if too wet – it will rot. If the air is very dry, the coconut may burst. Do not exclude light, since it encourages germination.

[banner] Fresh seeds germinate in 3 to 4 months, but sometimes it may take half a year or even more. At first, cotyledons appear through one of the three “eyelets” of the nut. If conditions are warm, damp and sunny, the true leaves will soon replace them. Usually, the leaves grow first, and only then the roots sprout (they at first develop inside the coconut, just like the leaves). In the first year the seedling is fed by nutrients which have been accumulated inside the nut, but later it will needs additional feeding. It grows relatively fast, and in some 5 to 6 years it starts developing trunk. In 5-6 years time, the coconut palms growing in their natural environment, start flowering and bearing fruit. Most of the fruit will fall, while small. One palm usually yields up to 50 coconuts.

Penang spicy gardenMany cultivars of coconut palm have been introduced, which differ in their growth rate, yield and purpose of cultivation. Some of them are grown in plantations for coir, while others – for coconuts. Compact, up to 2-3 m tall self-pollinating coconut palms are often grown as houseplants (e.g. `Red Spicata Dwarf`, `Fiji Dwarf`). Their coconuts differ in taste, fragrance, “hairiness” (whether they have husk or not), size and color (green, yellow, orange, brown). They are readily available from seed shops abroad. The shop-bought coconut palms usually do not flower, and even if they do, they do not bear fruit. Coconuts sold for food have their husks removed; therefore they germinate poorly or do not germinate at all.

For a coconut palm to thrive it needs a sunny position, as close to the window as possible, and plenty of space to spread its leaves. They dislike dry air, therefore should be sprayed every day. Ideally, air humidity should be no less than 60% (these palms feel best near air humidifier). They should be transplanted every 5 years.

© Giedra Bartas, 2010

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *