Monday, March 12, 2007

Origins and Cultivation of Coconut

You wonder where Coconuts came from. Here’s the answer.

The origins of this plant are the subject of controversy, with some authorities claiming it is native to south Asia, while others claim its origin is in northwestern South America. Fossil records from New Zealand indicate that small, coconut-like plants grew there as long as 15 million years ago. Even older fossils have been uncovered in Rajasthan, TamilNadu, Kerala and Maharashtra, India. Regardless of its origin, the coconut has spread across much of the tropics, probably aided in many cases by sea-faring peoples. The fruit is light and buoyant and presumably spread significant distances by marine currents. Fruits collected from the sea as far north as Norway have been found to be viable (and subsequently germinated under the right conditions). In the Hawaiian Islands, the coconut is regarded as a Polynesian introduction, first brought to the islands by early Polynesian voyagers from their homelands in the South Pacific. They are now ubiquitous to most of the planet between 26ºN and 26ºS.

The coconut palm thrives on sandy soils and is highly tolerant of salinity. It prefers areas with abundant sunlight and regular rainfall (750 to 2,000 mm annually), which makes colonizing shorelines of the tropics relatively straightforward. Coconuts also need high humidity (70–80%+) for optimum growth, which is why they are rarely seen in areas with low humidity (e.g. the Mediterranean), even where temperatures are high enough (regularly above 24°C). They are very hard to establish in dry climates and cannot grow there without frequent irrigation. They may grow but not fruit properly in areas where there is not sufficient warmth, like Bermuda.

Coconut palms are intolerant of freezing weather. They will show leaf injury below 34ºF (1ºC), defoliate at 30ºF (-1ºC) and die at 27ºF (-3ºC). There are rare reports of coconut palms surviving (with severe damage) to 20ºF (-7ºC). One night of freezing weather can set the growth of a coconut palm back about 6 months.

The only two states in the U.S. where coconut palms can be grown and reproduce outdoors without irrigation are Hawaii and Florida. Coconut palms will grow from Bradenton southwards on Florida's west coast and Melbourne southwards on Florida's east coast. The occasional coconut palm is seen north of these areas in favored microclimates in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area and around Cape Canaveral. They may likewise be grown in favored microclimates on the barrier islands near the Brownsville, Texas area. They may reach fruiting maturity, but are damaged or killed by the occasional winter freezes in these areas. While coconut palms flourish in south Florida, unusually bitter cold snaps can kill or injure coconut palms there as well. Only the Florida Keys provide a safe haven from the cold as far as growing coconut palms on the U.S. mainland. Read more.

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