Lodoicea maldivica, the Coco de Mer, is a monocot tree in the Arecaceae (palm family) endemic to the Seychelles. Also known as the sea coconut, love nut, double coconut, coco fesse, or Seychelles nut, it is famous for having the largest seed and largest naturally-occurring fruit in the plant kingdom (although cultivated pumpkins, Cucurbita maxima, with heavier weights have been recorded). It also has the largest female flowers of any palm species. Its large size and unusual natural history have given rise to various fantastic legends—described in this Wikipedia article, Legends of the Coco de Mer—and the fruits sold for many times their weight in gold during Roman times.
Due to the fascination with its size, Coco de Mer fruits have been overharvested so that natural regeneration rarely occurs in its native habitat (which consists of less than 100 square kilometers), and it has gone locally extinct on several islands where it used to occur. It is now rated as an endangered species on the 2011 IUCN Red List, with fewer than 9,000 mature individuals documented.
The Coco de Mer tree grows to 25–34 m (82–110 feet) tall. Leaves are fan-shaped, 7–10 m long and 4.5 m wide, with petioles (stems) 4 m long. It is dioecious, with separate male and female plants. The female inflorescence (flower stem) is up to 1 meter long, with multiple flowers 4–5 cm (2 inches) wide; male flowers are catkin-like, up to 1 m long. The fruit takes 6–10 years to mature. It is generally two-lobed but may have four or even six lobes. It typically reaches a size of 40–50 cm (16–20 inches) in diameter and weighs 15–30 kg (7–14 pounds); the largest fruit recorded weighed 42 kg (just over 19 pounds). Seeds require 2 years to germinate, and the plant must grow 20–40 years to start flowering.
The Coco de Mer fruit is edible, but is not commercially available due to the restricted distribution and difficulty in cultivating the plant. The jelly-like flesh of Coco de Mer was considered to have medicinal properties. The empty shells are carved into vessels and bowls; large ones have been carved into stools and table bases.
(Fleisher-Dogley et al. 2011, Levardsen 1969, Wikipedia 2011, Wynne 2011)
Fleischer-Dogley, F., Huber, M.J. & Ismail, S. 2011. Lodoicea maldivica. In: IUCN 2011. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.2.
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- Levardsen, N.O. 1969. “It’s the Biggest.” Turtox News 47(6): 206–7.
- Wikipedia. 2011. “Coco de Mer.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 12 December 2011 from http://eol.org/pages/1140238/details#wikipedia.
- Wynne, M. 2011. Professor Emeritus of Botany. University of Michigan. Personal communication.
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