Overview

Brief Summary

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. . Downloaded on 19 December 2011.
  • 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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Biology

Coco-de-mer palms take 25 years to reach maturity and start bearing fruit, and the fruits themselves reach maturity after a further 7 years (2). Once fallen to the forest floor, the fruit wall disintegrates over 6 months and germination takes another 2 years (2). Coco-de-mer flowers are visited by a variety of different animals such as bees, slugs and geckos (3) with pollination carried out by small insects such as flies (6).
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Description

The awesome coco-de-mer is a giant of the plant world; this palm has the longest leaves and the largest and heaviest seeds of any plant in the world (2). The tall slender trunk may tower up to 34 metres in height, bearing at its crown a mass of palm fronds (2). In mature individuals the leaf blades may be 4.5 metres wide and are fringed at the edges; withered leaves hang from the palm below the vibrant, healthy green crown (2). Unlike other Seychelles palms, the male and female flowers of the coco-de-mer are borne on separate trees (2); the male catkins can reach up to a metre in length, making them the longest in the world (3). Possibly the most renowned feature of this palm tree, however, are its enormous seeds; over the ages mariners have seen these seeds washed up on deserted beaches or riding the waves and they have become known as the 'coconuts of the sea' appearing to come from some mysterious oceanic plant (3). The seeds usually have two lobes and can weigh up to an enormous 30 kg (2).
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Distribution

Range Description

This species is endemic to the Seychelles. It occurs naturally only on the two islands of Praslin (Fond Ferdinand, Vallée de Mai, Anse Marie-Louise) and Curieuse (Dogley and Matatiken 2006). These two islands have a total area of 41 km² (National Statistics Bureau 2005). Historically, the species was also known from Round, St. Pierre and Chauve-Souris (Dogley and Matatiken 2006). It is planted on several other granitic islands, but these stands cannot be counted as naturalized. It occurs at less than six locations and the EOO is estimated to be less than 100 km² (maybe even less than 50 km²).
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Range

Endemic to the Seychelles, natural stands of the coco-de-mer are only found on the islands of Praslin and Curieuse (4), although individuals have been introduced to other islands and there is a population on Silhouette Island (5).
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
This palm can be found on almost all soil types though it is confined to hill slopes and valleys. It grows best in forests on deep valley soils with good drainage. In such locations it forms the canopy species in almost pure stands of forest or mixed stands with other palms, e.g. Deckenia nobilis and screw pines Pandanus hornei. Undergrowth is limited by the lack of light and the thick leaf litter. Epiphytes such as lichens are found in tiny crevices in the bark. Ferns grow around the inflorescence in the crown of the tree. The endemic fauna associated are the Black Parrot (Coracopsis nigra barklyi) the Seychelles Bulbul (Hypsipetes crassirostris), and three Gecko species, Phelsuma sunbergi, Phelsuma asiatica and Ailuronyx sechellensis. Among the Seychelles snails only one, Pachnodus praslinus, is found in Lodoicea forest. The complex interactions between the palm and the fauna are yet to be discovered.

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Inhabits rainforests where there are deep, well-drained soils (2) and open exposed slopes; although growth is reduced on such eroded soils (5).
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Lodoicea maldivica

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Lodoicea maldivica

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 2
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EN
Endangered

Red List Criteria
B1ab(ii,iii,v)+2ab(ii,iii,v)

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2011

Assessor/s
Fleischer-Dogley, F., Huber, M.J. & Ismail, S.

Reviewer/s
Baker, W.J. & Lutz, M.L.

Contributor/s

Justification
Lodoicea maldivica is endemic to Praslin and Curieuse islands, Seychelles, where the extent of occurrence (EOO) and the area of occupancy (AOO) are estimated to be less than 100 km², and it is restricted to fewer than six locations. There has been a decline in the area of occupancy, which is not reversible and it has been estimated that the population has declined by more than 30% over three generations. The main threats are fires, harvesting and poaching. Furthermore, a future continuing decline in the population by more than 30% can be suspected within a maximum of 100 years if the actual level of exploitation is continued and invasive pathogens are introduced. Current levels of utilization are thought to be unsustainable and illegal harvesting of kernels is a significant additional threat. It is therefore listed as Endangered.

History
  • 1998
    Vulnerable
    (Oldfield et al. 1998)
  • 1998
    Vulnerable
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Status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).
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Population

Population
The population consists of a total of 8,282 mature individuals, of which most are found within three subpopulations (1,440 individuals in the Vallée de Mai, 1,380 individuals in Fond Ferdinand, 1,750 individuals on Curieuse). Some individuals are also found scattered across Praslin. The reduction in population size is estimated to be more than 30% over the last three generations. The reduction is based on the decline in area of occupancy and is not clearly reversible. Most of the areas previously occupied by L. maldivica were degraded at one point in time by fire. As a result, there has been a loss in the quality of its habitat in parts of its range. This applies especially for Curieuse and is to date very obvious. Parallel to loss in quality habitat, infrastructure development has taken place on Praslin in areas, which were once occupied by L. maldivica. The actual or potential levels of exploitation combined with the effects of introduced taxa like pathogens, pollutants or parasites can not be quantified, although figures on seed collection are available which indicate that the amount of nuts harvested has more than doubled in the past 11 years. This clearly confirms that actual exploitation has been intensified. At the same time efforts to ensure new recruitment have been very limited for a range of different reasons including poaching. Therefore, in a worst-case scenario, a population size reduction of more than 30% can be suspected within a maximum of 100 years if the actual level of exploitation is continued and for example an invasive pathogen is accidentally introduced.

Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
The main threats to this species are harvesting and poaching, fires (human induced and wildfires), infrastructure development and introduced taxa (such as pathogens and parasites). Its restricted range, slow growth rate, limited dispersal ability and poor recruitment are other threats to this species.

Current levels of utilisation are thought to be unsustainable and illegal harvesting of kernels is a significant additional threat (Rist et al. 2010).
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The seeds of the coco-de-mer have been highly prized over the centuries; their rarity caused great interest and high prices in royal courts, and the tough outer seed coat has been used to make bowls and other instruments (2). The history of exploitation continues today, and the collection of nuts has virtually stopped all natural regeneration of populations (4) with the exception of the introduced population on Silhouette. This palm has been lost from the wild from three Seychelles islands within its former range (4). Habitat loss is one of the major threats to the survival of remaining populations, there have been numerous fires on the islands of Praslin and Curieuse, and only immature trees remain over large parts of these islands (4).
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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions
The species is legally protected by the Breadfruit and other trees Act (Laws of Seychelles 1991) and the Coco-de-Mer (Management) Decree 1978, revised in 1994. It is found in the Praslin National Park and the Curieuse Marine National Park.
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Conservation

The Seychelles is a World Heritage Site, and a third of the area is now protected (3). The main populations of coco-de-mer palms are found within the Praslin and Curieuse National Parks (4), and the trade in nuts is controlled by the Coco-de-mer (Management) Decree of 1995 (4). Firebreaks also exist at key sites in an effort to prevent devastating fires from sweeping through populations (4). Cultivated palms are grown on a number of other islands and are widely present in botanic gardens; although the collection of seeds in order to recruit these populations may be a further threat to the remaining natural stands (4). Conservation priorities are the continued protection of populations, enforcement of regulations and effective fire control (4). It is hoped that these measures will be sufficient to secure the future of this magnificent palm tree.
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Wikipedia

Coco de Mer

"Sea coconut" redirects here. For the fruit eaten as a snack, see Borassus flabellifer.

The sea coconut also known as coco de mer or double coconut (Lodoicea maldivica), the sole member of the genus Lodoicea, is a palm endemic to the islands of Praslin and Curieuse in the Seychelles. It formerly also was found on the small islets of St Pierre, Chauve-Souris and Ile Ronde (Round Island), all located near Praslin, but has become extinct there. The name of the genus, Lodoicea, is derived from Lodoicus, the Latinised form of Louis, in honour of King Louis XV of France.

Description[edit]

Nut from the coco de mer
The Vallée De Mai palm forest in Praslin

The tree grows to 25–34 m tall. The leaves are fan-shaped, 7–10 m long and 4.5 m wide with a 4 m petiole. It is dioecious, with separate male and female plants. The male flowers are catkin-like, up to 1 m long. The mature fruit is 40–50 cm in diameter and weighs 15–30 kg, and contains the largest seed in the plant kingdom. The fruit, which requires 6–7 years to mature and a further two years to germinate, is sometimes also referred to as the sea coconut, love nut, double coconut, coco fresse, or Seychelles nut.[3]

The coco de mer is the most interesting species of the six monospecific endemic palms in Seychelles since it is the "only true case of island gigantism among Seychelles flowering plants, a unique feature of Seychelles vegetation" (Proctor, 1984). It is one of the most universally well-known plants and holds three botanical records; the largest fruit so far recorded weighed 42 kg; the mature seeds weighing up to 17.6 kg are the world's heaviest;[4][5][6] and the female flowers are the largest of any palm.[5][6]

Of the six endemic palms it is the only dioecious species, with male and female flowers located on different plants.[7]

Habit[edit]

The coco de mer palm is robust, solitary, up to 30 m tall with an erect, spineless, stem which is ringed with leaf scars (Calstrom, unpublished). The base of the trunk is of a bulbous form and this bulb fits into a natural bowl, or socket, about 2.5 ft in diameter and 18 inches in depth, narrowing towards the bottom. This bowl is pierced with hundreds of small oval holes about the size of a thimble with hollow tubes corresponding on the outside through which the roots penetrate the ground on all sides, never, however, becoming attached to the bowl; they are partially elastic, affording an almost imperceptible but very necessary "play" to the parent stem when struggling against the force of violent gales.

Leaves[edit]

The crown is a rather dense head of foliage with leaves that are stiff, palmate up to 10 m in diameter and petioles of two to four metres in length. The leaf is plicate at the base, cut one third or more into segments 4–10 cm broad with bifid end which are often drooping. A triangular cleft develops at the petiole base.[5]

Flowers[edit]

The clusters of staminate flowers are arranged spirally and are flanked by very tough leathery bracts. Each has a small bracteole, three sepals forming a cylindrical tube, and a three-lobed corolla. There are 17 to 22 stamens. The pistillate flowers are solitary and borne at the angles of the rachis and are partially sunken in it in the form of a cup. They are ovoid with three petals as well as three sepals.[5] It has been suggested that they may be pollinated by animals such as the endemic lizards which inhabit the forest where they occur.[8] Pollination by wind and rain are also thought to be important.[7] Only when Lodoicea begins to produce flowers, which can vary from 11 years to 45 or more, is it possible to determine the sex of the plant.[9]

Inflorescence[edit]

Male coco de mer inflorescence

Inflorescences are interfoliar, lacking a covering spathe and shorter than the leaves. The staminate inflorescence is catkin-like, one to two metres long and generally terminal and solitary, sometimes two or three catkins may be present. The pistillate inflorescences are also one to two metres long unbranched and the flowers are borne on a zig-zagging rachilla.[6]

Fruit[edit]

Fruit

The fruit is bilobed, flattened, 40 to 50 cm long ovoid and pointed, and contains usually one but occasionally two to four seeds. The epicarp is smooth and the mesocarp is fibrous. The endosperm is thick, relatively hard, hollow and homogenous. The embryo sits in the sinus between the two lobes. During germination a tubular cotyledonary petiole develops that connects the young plant to the seed. The length of the tube is reported to reach about four metres.[5] In the Vallee de Mai the tube may be up to 10 m long.[8]

The Seychelles nut was once believed to be a sea-bean or drift seed, a seed evolved to be dispersed by the sea. However, it is now known that the viable nut is too dense to float, and only rotted out nuts can be found on the sea surface,[10] thus explaining why the trees are limited in range to just two islands.

Habitat[edit]

Coco de mer trees inhabit rainforests where there are deep, well-drained soils[11] and open exposed slopes; although growth is reduced on such eroded soils.[12]

History and mythology[edit]

Coco de mer tree in a Sri Lanka botanic garden

Formerly the coco de mer was known as Maldive coconut. Its scientific name, Lodoicea maldivica, originated before the 18th century when the Seychelles were uninhabited. In centuries past the coconuts that fell from the trees and ended up in the sea would be carried away eastwards by the prevailing sea currents. The nuts can only float after the germination process, when they are hollow. In this way many drifted to the Maldives where they were gathered from the beaches and valued as an important trade and medicinal item.[13] .[4] This association is reflected in one of the plant's archaic botanical names, Lodoicea callipyge Comm. ex J. St.-Hil., in which callipyge is from Greek words meaning 'beautiful buttocks'. Other botanical names used in the past include Lodoicea sechellarum Labill. and Lodoicea sonneratii (Giseke) Baill.

Until the true source of the nut was discovered in 1768 by Dufresne, it was believed by many to grow on a mythical tree at the bottom of the sea. European nobles in the sixteenth century would often have the shells of these nuts polished and decorated with valuable jewels as collectibles for their private galleries. The coco de mer tree is now a rare and protected species.

Uses[edit]

The species is grown as an ornamental tree in many areas in the tropics, and subsidiary populations have been established on Mahé and Silhouette Islands in the Seychelles to help conserve the species. The fruit is used in Ayurvedic medicine and also in traditional Chinese medicine. In food, it is typically found as flavor enhancers for soups in southern Chinese cuisine, namely cuisine around the Canton region.

Taxonomy[edit]

The coco de mer belongs to the Coryphoidae subfamily and tribe Borasseae. Borasseae is represented by four genera in Madagascar and one in Seychelles out of the seven worldwide. They are distributed on the coastlands surrounding the Indian ocean and the existing islands within. Borassus, the genus closest to Lodoicea, has about five species in the "old world," one species in Africa, one in India, South-East Asia and Malaysia, one in New Guinea and two species in Madagascar.[5]

Threats[edit]

The seeds of the coco de mer have been highly prized over the centuries; their rarity caused great interest and high prices in royal courts, and the tough outer seed coat has been used to make bowls [such as for Sufi/Dervish beggar-alms kashkul bowls] and other instruments.[11] The history of exploitation continues today, and the collection of nuts has virtually stopped all natural regeneration of populations[14] with the exception of the introduced population on Silhouette. This palm has been lost from the wild from three Seychelles islands within its former range.[14] Habitat loss is one of the major threats to the survival of remaining populations, there have been numerous fires on the islands of Praslin and Curieuse, and only immature trees remain over large parts of these islands.[14]

Conservation[edit]

The Seychelles is a World Heritage Site, and a third of the area is now protected.[15] The main populations of coco-de-mer palms are found within the Praslin and Curieuse National Parks,[14] and the trade in nuts is controlled by the Coco-de-mer (Management) Decree of 1995.[14] Firebreaks also exist at key sites in an effort to prevent devastating fires from sweeping through populations.[14] Cultivated palms are grown on a number of other islands and are widely present in botanic gardens; although the collection of seeds in order to recruit these populations may be a further threat to the remaining natural stands.[14] Conservation priorities are the continued protection of populations, enforcement of regulations and effective fire control.[14]

References[edit]

This article incorporates text from the ARKive fact-file "Coco de Mer" under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License and the GFDL.

  1. ^ Fleischer-Dogley, F., Huber, M.J. & Ismail, S. (2011). "Lodoicea maldivica". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2011.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 10 November 2011. 
  2. ^ "The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species". Retrieved May 16, 2014. 
  3. ^ "Royal honeymooners' 'erotic' souvenir". BBC News. 16 July 2011. 
  4. ^ a b Ecott, Tim (16 July 2011). "Royal honeymooners' 'erotic' Seychelles souvenir". BBC - From Our Own Correspondent. Retrieved 17 July 2011. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Uhl and Dransfield, 1987.
  6. ^ a b c Wise, 1998
  7. ^ a b Edwards, Kollmann & Fleischmann's selective review of the biology of the species (2002)
  8. ^ a b Beaver and Chong Seng, 1992
  9. ^ Chong Seng, pers.comm. 2006; Andre, pers.comm. 2006.[original research?]
  10. ^ Adam Leith Gollner, The Fruit Hunters, a story of nature, adventure, commerce and obsession, page 114. Scribner 1999, ISBN 978-0-7432-9694-6
  11. ^ a b Wise, R. (1998). A Fragile Eden. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 
  12. ^ Coco de Mer media at ARKive
  13. ^ Xavier Romero-Frias, The Maldive Islanders, A Study of the Popular Culture of an Ancient Ocean Kingdom. Barcelona 1999, ISBN 84-7254-801-5
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h Gerlach, J. (1997). Seychelles Red Data Book. Seychelles: The Nature Protection Trust of the Seychelles. 
  15. ^ Seychells: Jewel of a Lost Continent. Natural World. BBC. 10 December 2000. 
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