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Cocos is a plant genus with only one species: Cocos nucifera, or the coconut palm. Cocos nucifera is a large tree, growing up to 100 feet (30 meters), and is native throughout tropical coastal regions of the world. It is also cultivated in areas that are sufficiently warm, sunny, and humid, such as California and Florida in the United States, and currently grows in over 80 countries. The coconut palm has a great many uses, with nearly every part of the plant providing some benefit to humans. For example, various parts of the plant can be used in landscaping, cuisine, gardening, medicine, and the manufacture of clothing, tools, shelter, and musical instruments.
Thriving in coastal climates, Cocos nucifera prefers sandy soil, tolerates salt in the air and soil, and requires strong direct sunlight and humidity. The fruit of the coconut is a drupe, or pit fruit. Unlike many drupes, however, the outermost layers of the coconut fruit are tough and not edible. Rather, the edible portion of the coconut fruit, called meat, adheres to the inside of the shell of the seed or pit.
The two outermost layers of the coconut are collectively called the husk. The outermost layer is typically removed from commercially sold coconuts, though part of it may be left on young coconuts. The shell of the fruit is fibrous, and the fibers, called coir, are used in some cultures to make rope, mats, mattress stuffing, fishing nets, and similar items.
The outside of the coconut fruit has three soft spots, or eyes, through which a root emerges when the seed germinates. The fruit is full of a liquid called coconut water, which can be enjoyed as a drink. It is best when taken from young coconuts, as the coconut water in older fruits dries up and becomes bitter. Mature fruits produce better meat, however. Coconut milk is made by squeezing the juice out of the meat of the coconut.
Other edible parts of Cocos nucifera include the heart of palm and the buds of the flowers. The sap and nectar of the flowers may also be used as a drink. Coconut oil, derived from the meat, is used in cooking and soap making. The shell of the coconut can be used to make bowls, musical instruments, and small ornaments such as buttons. The leaves are used to make brooms, woven mats and baskets, and roof thatching.
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