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Coconut palms

May 3, 2013
By JOYCE COMINGORE - Garden Club of Cape Coral , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Ever since the Herb Conference, I've been singing in my best Cockney accent, "I've got a loverly bunch of coconuts," only it's been, "I WISH I had a loverly bunch of coconuts."

They were touted as one of the top medicinal herbs. I hadn't quite thought of them as herbs, but the gentleman leading the session opened a young yellow coconut from the Malayan dwarf coconut palm with a hammer and a screwdriver and proceeded to drain the coconut water out into a bowl. He pounded the holes at a parallel, but not opposite spots to achieve two holes, one to drain out of and the other to create the vacuum necessary for the coconut water to flow out. He proceeded to give his lecture about coconuts from that point.

I never planted a coconut palm, but have always wanted one. When my former sister-in-law lived at the very end of Pine Island, we would look at the lot across the canal fringed by coconut trees bending way over the seawalls and beckoning us to come over. The owner had grown them all from coconuts he lowered, tied in bags from his canal walls, into the salty canal water when he left for his northern home, to soak in the salt water until he returned, and they would all be sprouted. So I heard tell.

When I became a Master Gardener 23 years ago, not having any salt water canals nearby, I paid particularly close attention when they gave demonstrations on how to sprout a coconut. You half bury a coconut sideways in the soil, pointy end to stem end. It takes 11 to 12 months to germinate. They grow inside the smooth green or yellow shell, (the exocarp outer layer) around the fibrous, hairy hard shell, (the mesocarp layer) that surrounds the seed, the endocarp.

Endosperm is the meaty food. If you look at one end of the coconut, you see three indents called eyes or pores. A shoot appears from one of these eyes. Inside is the food that starts off its life.

Due to lethal yellowing destroying many palms, be sure to plant selections that are resistant to lethal yellowing diseases, like Malayan yellow and golden dwarf Malayan coconuts. Their foliage is yellow, discouraging some who want dark green fronds. They also are upright palms that don't do the tropical leaning look.

If you want that alluring tropical atmosphere of leaning, swaying palms with a hammock strung between, take a chance on Jamaica tall or a Panama tall. They need training to lean properly.

Cocos nucifera, or coconut tree, has a productive life of about 70 years and can produce up to 70 coconuts a year. The word coconut confuses many people who argue about it being a fruit or a nut. With its large hard shell it might be as the name implies, a nut, but the fruit of the coconut palm is a drupe that has a hard shell covering the seed, ergo - a fruit. It does not open when it matures to release the seeds.

Another unusual fact is that it is not a tree, but a woody perennial monocotyledon, in the grass family.

It has long been called the "Tree of Life," and its edible part is the fruit of life. That loverly bunch of coconuts are used to make coconut oil, soap, cosmetics as well as having medicinal uses. We eat its meat containing high potassium for food, its milk is used in food delicacies and beauty products and the shredded meat lining from inside, we use for cooking and baking. The milk comes from crushing the meat, the internal liquid poured out of the center is mineral rich coconut water (so good for drinking). In World War II and Vietnam, doctors substituted coconut water for short supplied intra-venous solution. The fibers from the husk can be used in the production of ropes, mats, brooms and brushes. Leaves are used to thatch roofs, and its wood is used for building material.

They grow in the wet tropics between latitudes 20 degrees North and South of the Equator. It requires full sun, a humid climate, and can be grown in well drained soils with ph readings of 5 to 8, is tolerant of brackish soils. Their featherlike leaves when old break away cleanly and leave a smooth trunk. Their florescence attracts many bees. Fruit bearing starts when they are five to seven years old, and continue until they are 70 to 80 years old. Fertilize four times a year with palm fertilizer, thoroughly watering it into the soil.

I read, "Nothing says summer like the sweet taste of coconut. Just one whiff conjures up visions of white sands, clear turquoise water, and palm trees swaying in the breeze.Maybe it's the inescapable association with suntan oil, its prominent place in pina coladas or just its tropical origin. Either way, coconuts practically scream relaxation, happiness, and sweet indulgence!"

I just read these words and felt I couldn't say it any better. I also read about all the incredible health benefits of coconuts in traditional medicine. A list so long, touting a wide range of health benefits from anti-infection, improving kidney and liver health, diabetes, thyroid, weight loss, to HIV/AIDS, that I wondered where the old Snake Oils Medicine Man was.

Coconut possesses many health benefits because of its fiber and nutritional content, but it seems that the oil makes it a very remarkable food and medicine. I found an article from the Dr. Oz Show, my go-to medical show, about the benefits. Previously, people felt that coconut oil was unhealthy because of its high saturated fat content, but it's been found to be unique and different from most other fats, with health giving properties. Well done, my new herb, tree of life, beneficial to us all.

Please thank a tree for its oxygen and absorbing carbon dioxide, a really essential lifesaver.

Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, involved in the FM/LC Federated Garden Council and Federated District IX and a member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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