Floridata Plant Encyclopedia

A Floridata Plant Profile 30 Cocos nucifera

Common Names: coconut palm Family: Lamiaceae (palm Family)
Image Gallery

a grove of coconut palms
A lovely bunch of coconut palms poses pondside at the Fairchild Tropical Garden in Miami, Florida. These may be some of the most famous (and photographed) palms in the world - look for their pictures when reading books and other materials about palms.

Description

This beautiful palm embodies the romance of the tropics and is also of great economic value. There are many varieties, from dwarfs to the familiar tall growing types that reach 50-80 ft (15.2-24.4 m). All have graceful gray trunks topped by a crown of pinnately compound yellow-green leaves. Each leaf is 15-17 ft (4.6-5.2 m) long with in ( cm) leaflets. During the last two decades, coconut palms in south Florida have been attacked by a microorganism that causes a fatal disease called lethal yellowing. Fortunately, nurseries now supply stock resistant to the disease.

coconut flower stalk
The white branched structure in the inflorescence which supports the male and female flowers. Small green baby coconuts can be seen in the lower left corner.

Location

Coconut, Cocos nucifera, is a pan-tropical species usually found in humid coastal areas between latitudes 26 degrees north and south. The origin of this plant is uncertain, but many experts believe it's from the west Pacific and Indian Ocean islands. As it is not a palm for dry climates, it is typically encountered in the continental U.S. only in South Florida, and the extreme southern tip of Texas. Coconut palms are also occasionally seen in nominally frost-free micro-climates in Zone 9. I've seen them on St. Petersburg Beach and Vero Beach, often looking somewhat shabby after a rough winter.


Culture

Coconut palm fronds are also very susceptible to attacks by the palm leaf skeletonizer (Homaledra sabalella). This is a caterpillar that feeds on the the leaf tissue and causes tissue death. The best treatment is removal of the infected frond; there has also been some success using Di-Pel® as well as Sevin®. Coconut palm is very salt tolerant. Light: Bright sunny locations. Moisture: Can withstand drought, but likes moisture if well drained. Hardiness: USDA Zones 10 - 11. Virtually frostfree areas only. Coconut palms can tolerate frost and freezing of only briefest duration - even then leaves will discolor and the plant is left susceptible to fungus diseases. Propagation: Plant fresh coconuts (with husks) on their side, half buried in moist soil (half of the coconut is exposed). If kept moist the coconut will sprout in 2-3 months. Growth is slow at first but picks up as the palm matures.

Usage

This palm makes a beautiful accent on the lawn and provides nice filtered shade for the patio. Use in groves and street plantings. The coconut palm is very salt tolerant and is at its most sensational when planted beachside where the sea breeze can rustle its huge feather leaves. Nothing sets a tropical tone like the coconut palm!

coconuts
These are golden Malay coconuts, a variety that is resistant to lethal yellowing disease.

Coconut palm is susceptible to a disease called Lethal Yellowing (LY) where the foliage turns yellow and the entire tree eventually dies. LY is caused by a phytoplasma, which is an organism larger than a virus, but smaller than a bacteria, born by a leaf-hopping insect, the Myndus crudus. This phytoplasma can live in the crown of the coconut palm for over 18 months before any visible LY symptoms are apparent. To prevent the disease from progressing to a symptomatic declining stage, oxycycline antibiotic should be administered at least three times per year via a port drilled into the trunk. The antibiotic must be administered for the rest of the tree(s) life/lives. This does not cure the infestation, but will keep the tree alive.

Data collected in 2003 in Ft. Lauderdale by the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Experiment Station indicates that the varieties of coconut palms previously thought to have a 85-95 percentage of resistance to LY, like the Malayan Dwarf or May-Pan (which is a Malayan-Panamanian hybrid), have only been 10-15 percent LY resistant versus less than 2 percent resistant for the Jamaican Tall coconut variety. The Samoan hybrid variety seems to be over 90 percent resistant, but is very hard to find them at this time in South Florida. There is a definite possibility that the phytoplasma has mutated and the so-called resistant varieties are not as resistant to this new "super phytoplasma."

Features

A valuable food resource throughout the tropics, the coconut is composed of a fibrous outer husk covering a hard woody shell. A white meat (called copra) lines the inside of the shell. This meat can be shredded and used in baking. You've undoubtedly encountered it in delectable cakes, cookies, candies and (mmmm) macaroons. It can also be pressed to extract coconut oil for use in cooking or baking as well. The inside of a coconut is hollow and may contain coconut meat milk, which is a primary component of the piña colada, a tasty alcoholic beverage. More importantly, it's used in the manufacture of such diverse products as soap, lubricants, explosives and margarine. The thick outer husk is a source of a tough fiber called coir used to make doormats and brushes. The leaves are used in some areas for roofing thatch and basket weaving.

Warning

Most of us in the U.S. are familiar with the coconut palm from resorts in Florida and the Caribbean. Since falling coconuts can pose a serious (sometimes fatal!) health hazard to guests, they are often removed by resort managers hoping to avoid injuries and lawsuits.

Jack Scheper 04/27/97, updated: 5/29/99, Paul Nawrocki 1/25/04, 2/23/04



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Cocos species profiled on Floridata:


Cocos nucifera

( coconut palm )

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