The coconut palm is, by far, one of the most useful trees available. It provides a number of useful products as well as an serving as an exotic and tropical decorative plant. While the tree is not native to the United States, its origin is unknown. Coconut palms have been cultivated for thousands of years and continue to be grown for both its agricultural and decorative value to this day.
The crown of the tree is a collection of long, flowing fronds. Each frond has a central stem with long, thin, strap-like leaves alternating on either side and down the entire length of the stem. The flowers are white and inconspicuous. The fruit of the tree is covered in a thick, greenish-yellow fibrous husk. The coconut itself is a hard, thick, oval, brown shell, anywhere from 6 to 10 inches in diameter. Inside the shell is a lining of white, nutty flesh and a thin, slightly sweet liquid. The root system of the tree is relatively shallow.
The plant is tropical in nature and grows in zones 10B and 11 in California and Florida. It also grows well in all of the Hawaiian islands. It has a medium growth rate, adding more than a foot a year. The tree grows vertically, from the bud at the top of the plant's crown. The lower fronds die as the tree grows, leaving a scaled trunk with visible leaf scars.
The plant has a classic palm form with a thin, scaled trunk leading up to a large crown of long fronds. Trunks often curve slightly, depending on the position of the seed when it first germinated. Coconut palms can reach 60 feet in height and the crown can spread to 25 feet. The crown of the plant is open and coarse in texture.
Coconuts are relatively easy to start by burying the nut, with its outer husk intact, on its side halfway into the soil. They are also readily available as young plants at nurseries and garden centers in areas that will support the plant. Coconut trees prefer full sun and have a high drought and salt tolerance. They adapt well to varying soil conditions, as long as the soil drains well. When planted near patios, walkways and parking areas, the coconut palm will require regular trimming of dead fronds, flowers and coconut fruit, which can fall and injure people and damage cars and other property.
Coconut palms are grown commercially for coconut meat, oil, water, milk and fibers from both the nuts and fronds. The tree also serves in landscaping and is often used as a background plant, and to line streets and beaches.