coconut

Introduction

coconut, fruit of the coco palm ( Cocos nucifera ), a tree widely distributed through tropical regions. The seed is peculiarly adapted to dispersal by water because the large pod holding the nut is buoyant and impervious to moisture. The trees therefore establish themselves naturally on small islands and low shores bordering the tropical seas. The tree grows to a height of 60–100 ft (18–30 m), with a smooth cylindrical stem marked by the ringlike scars of former leaves. It bears at the top a crown of frondlike leaves and yellow or white blossoms.

The number of nuts varies; a well-cared-for tree may yield 75 to 200 or more annually. The mature fruit as it comes from the tree is encased in a thick, brown fibrous husk. The nut itself has a hard woody shell, with three round scars at one end; the embryo lies against the largest scar and emerges through it as a developing plant. Through this easily punctured spot the "milk" of the young coconut may be drained.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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