Cocos nucifera, or coconut palm, is a tall tree found growing along sandy shorelines in the tropics. It can reach a height of 50 to 80 feet. The leaves are feathery and are approximately 15 to 17 feet long. The crown of the coconut palm tree is round and filled with the feathery leaves. You will find the coconut palm tree in the Virgin Islands, south Florida, the Pacific region and other tropical areas--it is a worldwide symbol of the beauty of the tropics.
Researchers cannot agree upon the origin of the coconut palm tree. Some believe it is native to Southeast Asia; others feel that it is native to Melanesia, and later was spread to the regions of coastal Asia, east Africa and finally to the Atlantic coast of the Americas.
The coconut palm tree can be found along coastal areas in sandy shorelines, as it tolerates the sandy soil conditions and ocean salt spray. They also adapt well to inland soils if they are planted in well drained areas. Coconut palm trees require an average temperature of 72 degrees F, and they cannot survive in climates where the temperatures go below 32 degrees. They should be planted in full sun and in a region that has an annual rainfall of 30 to 50 inches.
The coconut palm tree can easily be identified. It has a columnar trunk, which is topped by a round canopy of leaves. The leaves are 15 to 17 feet long and 4 feet wide, and are shaped like feathers. The coconut palm also has fibrous covered fruit within the canopy of leaves. The fruit is large--growing up to 15 inches in length and 12 inches in circumference. The fibrous exterior of the fruit covers a round nut, or coconut. The coconut has a hard hairy shell and is 8 inches in diameter and up to 12 inches in length.
The meat or copra of the coconut is found on the inside of the nut. A mature coconut will have coconut meat that is about an inch thick--the meat will be white and hard. Immature coconuts or coconuts that are not ripe have an interior that is filled with coconut milk. As the coconut ripens, the coconut milk is absorbed into the meat of the coconut itself.
Many cultures throughout the tropics use the trunks and leaves of the coconut palm tree for building materials, constructing walls and roofs out of the wood and leaves. The meat of the coconut is eaten and is also used to make beverages. Coconut oil derived from the fruit is used to make margarine and soap. Throughout the world, dried coconut is used as an ingredient in baking cakes, pies and cookies. Many herbal remedies also make use of the cocunut, including some used for the treatment of high blood pressure, heart disease, and digestive problems.