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Coco de Mer

The Coco de mer is a palm endemic to the islands of Praslin and Curieuse in the Seychelles. It formerly also occurred on St Pierre, Chauve-Souris and Ile Ronde (Praslin) in the Seychelles group but has become extinct on these islands.

 

It 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.

 

What is special about the seeds?

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, double coconut, coco fesse, or Seychelles nut.

 

 

The Seychelles nut was once believed to be a sea-bean or drift seed, a seed designed to be dispersed by the sea. However, it is now known that the viable nut is too heavy to float, and only rotted out nuts can be found on the sea surface; this explains why the trees are limited in range to just two islands. The sailors who first saw the nut floating in the sea imagined that it resembled a woman's disembodied buttocks. This fanciful 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 rump'. Other botanical names used in the past include Lodoicea sechellarum Labill. and Lodoicea sonneratii (Giseke) Baill.

 

Until the true source of nut was discovered in 1768, 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 cleaned and decorated with valuable jewels as collectibles for their private galleries. The coco de mer is now a rare protected species.

 

The name of the genus, Lodoicea, is derived from Lodoicus, the Latinised form of Louis, in honour of King Louis XV of France.

 

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.




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