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The species has been cultivated since prehistoric times and is no longer found in the wild. Its progenitors are thought to have originated in the western Pacific region known as Malesia (the floristic region that includes the Malay Peninsula and archipelago, New Guinea, and the Bismarck Archipelago) and the southwest Pacific. It is now cultivated and sometimes naturalized across tropical and subtropical areas worldwide, where it often grows along coastal areas.
Coconut palms are medium-sized, solitary herbaceous plants. Although treelike in form, their trunks are composed not of wood, but of fibrous, stout, overlapping stems, and may grow to 25 m tall (80 feet), topped by a crown of pinnately compound leaves up to 4 meters (15 feet) long.
The coconut is known for its great versatility as seen in the many domestic, commercial, and industrial uses of its different parts. Coconuts are part of the daily diet of many people. Its endosperm is known as the edible "flesh" of the coconut; when dried it is called copra. The oil and milk derived from it are commonly used in cooking and frying; coconut oil is also widely used in soaps and cosmetics. The clear liquid coconut water within is a refreshing beverage and can be processed to create alcohol or blended with gums and whiteners to make a popular milk substitute. The husks and leaves can be used as material to make a variety of products for furnishing and decorating. It also has cultural and religious significance in many societies that use it. As of 2009, coconut was grown commercially in 80 countries, with total production of 61 million tons; leading producers were the Philippines, Indonesia, and India.
Coconuts have been used in traditional medicine around the world to treat numerous ailments, ranging from sore throat, colds, and earaches to tuberculosis, tumors, and ulcers. Recent medical studies have found that coconut can have antibacterial, antifungal, antihelmintic, and antiviral properties, among other health benefits. Coconut oil was once avoided because it is composed of saturated fats, which were thought to raise cholesterol. However, recent research suggests that because it has medium- rather than long-chain fatty acids, coconut oil does not raise cholesterol, but may actually protect against heart disease. Coconut has now become popular as a health food, with numerous products and web sites extolling its benefits.
The term coconut can refer to the entire coconut palm, the seed, or the fruit, which is not technically a nut. The spelling cocoanut is an old-fashioned form of the word. The term is derived from 16th century Portuguese and Spanish “cocos,” meaning "grinning face," from the three small holes on the coconut shell that resemble human facial features.
(Coconut Research Center 2004, Haden 2009, Hahn 1997, Kew 2011, Pearsall 1999, Wikipedia 2011)