Coconut palm trees, sometimes known as ‘ Trees of Life’ because of their ability to sustain life through their highly nutritious flesh, water and oils as well as the usefulness of their trunks and leaves as building materials and their husks as fuel, are widespread across tropical islands and foreshores.
Coconuts growing on Four Mile Beach Port Douglas
The various types of coconut seeds (or ‘nuts’) have a very tough outer, fibrous covering with nutritious coconut water inside. They float readily and do not become waterlogged so are capable of extremely long ocean journeys, carried by winds and ocean currents to be deposited on islands and tropical foreshores, where they sprout and continue their life cycle as they have done for centuries.
Bunch of immature coconuts on a coconut tree uprooted in a cyclone.
Like other fruits, the coconut, which is classified as a drupe, not a
true nut, has three layers – the exocarp and mesocarp (which make up the
fibrous husk) and the endocarp, a hard shell, which protects the seed
within. The seed contains white ‘meat’ adhering to the inside of the
endocarp (endosperm tissue), into which, close to a germination hole, is
embedded a tiny embryo. When the coconut is still green the ‘meat’ is
jelly-like and sweet, the coconut water in the hollow interior being
sweet, slightly fizzy and highly nutritious liquid endosperm tissue.
Being rich in vitamins and minerals coconuts are highly prized for their health benefits. In traditional medicine they are used to prevent and treat a variety of ailments, which modern medicine has only recently begun to value and use.
Although coconut palm trees grow well in Australia there is very little commercialization of crops because of high labour costs associated with the extraction of oils and the milling of timber and other by-products. So this industry has become the mainstay of many Pacific islands, where the villagers are involved, through Fair Trade agreements, in cooperatives which manage the production and sale of crops.