Grown in over 80 countries worldwide, the coconut palm excels in the tropics, notably from the Philippines and Indonesia closely followed by India and Brazil which combined, account for approximately 80% of the world’s coconut production.
Coconut palm, (Cocos nucifera), tree of the palm family (Arecaceae), is cultivated for its edible nut. Coconuts probably originated somewhere in Indo-Malaya and are one of the most important crops of the tropics. Coconut flesh is high in fat and can be dried or eaten fresh; the liquid of the nut is used in beverages.
The palms flourish best close to the sea on low-lying areas a few feet above high water where there is circulating groundwater and ample rainfall. Most of the world’s coconuts are produced on small native plantations. Propagation is by unhusked ripe nuts. These are laid on their sides close together in nursery beds and almost covered with soil. After 4 to 10 months the seedlings are transplanted to the field, where they are spaced at distances of 8–10 metres (26–33 feet). Palms usually start bearing after 5 to 6 years. Full bearing is obtained in 15 years. Fruits require a year to ripen; the annual yield per tree may reach 100, but 50 is considered good. Yields continue profitably until trees are about 50 years old.
Besides the edible kernels and the drink obtained from green nuts, the harvested coconut also yields copra, the dried extracted kernel, or meat, from which coconut oil, a major vegetable oil, is expressed.
The Philippines and Indonesia lead in copra production, and throughout the South Pacific copra is one of the most important export products. The meat may also be grated and mixed with water to make coconut milk, used in cooking and as a substitute for cow’s milk. The dry husk yields coir, a fibre highly resistant to salt water and used in the manufacture of ropes, mats, baskets, brushes, and brooms.