What is a Coconut Palm Tree?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A coconut palm tree, known to biologists as Cocos nucifera, is a palm tree which produces coconuts. It is probably the most well known of the palms, and it is a very important tropical plant. In fact, coconuts are so closely associated with palms in the minds of many people that seeing a palm tree without coconuts can be a jarring and disappointing sight.

Shredded coconut.
Shredded coconut.

This palm produces very lacy, feathery leaves, and it is native to the tropics. It requires warmth, humidity, and a stable temperature to thrive, and it can attain heights of up to 60 feet (18 meters). Coconut palms produce an assortment of valuable products which can be used in everything from construction to hair care, making them very versatile and highly prized in regions where they can be grown.

A coconut palm tree is a source of coconut oil.
A coconut palm tree is a source of coconut oil.

Contrary to its name, a coconut is not really a nut. It is actually a type of fruit known as a drupe. Coconuts can be used in numerous culinary applications. The flesh of the coconut can be eaten or processed to make coconut milk, and the fruits also produce a liquid known as coconut water which is edible. A delicacy known as hearts of palm is made with the inner shoots of a coconut palm tree, unfortunately killing the tree in the process. The coconut palm tree can also be used as a source of coconut oil, which can be used in cooking, skin care, hair care, and lubrication.

A coconut palm tree produces coconuts.
A coconut palm tree produces coconuts.

The fibrous outer husk of the fruit can be used to make a fiber which is known as coir. Coir is used in ropemaking, construction, and the assembly of rugs and sacks. The wood of the palm tree is also useful in construction and crafts, as are the leaves. In some regions, charcoal is produced from coconut shells, and palm trees can also be used to make dye, buttons, jewelry, and a wide variety of other products.

The coconut tree is probably the most popular type of palm tree.
The coconut tree is probably the most popular type of palm tree.

People who live in tropical climates can grow coconut palms in their gardens. Many nurseries in the tropics carry an array of palms for people to use in landscaping, including coconut palm trees. However, caution should be taken when planting a coconut palm tree, as the falling fruits can pose a significant hazard. Planting away from paths and structures is highly recommended, and people should be encouraged to avoid lingering under coconut trees when the fruits are fully ripened, as a falling coconut can cause severe head trauma.

Palm trees are closely associated with palm trees, so much so that many people are surprised when they don't see coconuts on a palm tree.
Palm trees are closely associated with palm trees, so much so that many people are surprised when they don't see coconuts on a palm tree.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

aishia

So not all palm trees make coconuts? What kinds of fruit or seeds do other palm trees make, I wonder? I think living in a place tropical enough to have a coconut palm tree in my backyard would be amazing -- I would gladly deal with the risk of falling coconut head trauma!

gimbell

@SkittisH - No, coconut palm saplings don't just look like a miniature version of an adult coconut palm tree. They look like a few fronds of the coconut palm's usual leaves sticking upward out of a coconut (which is usually partially buried in the sand), because the coconut itself is the seed.

As for aging, your guess is dead-on. For a tree, especially one that's sixty to ninety feet tall (ninety is the "tall" type, sixty is the "dwarf" type), they grow really fast. A coconut palm tree takes five or six years to reach maturity and start producing coconuts. It can grow up to seventy five coconuts per year with the right conditions!

SkittisH

How long does it take for coconut palm tree seeds to grow into trees that produce coconuts? A sixty foot tall tree sounds like ti would take a long time to grow, but I'm figuring maybe they're similar to bamboo and they just grow super fast. I just realized that I've never seen any pictures anywhere of coconut palm trees before they reached adulthood; what does a coconut palm sapling look like? Is it just a miniature of the adult tree?

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