THE COCO de MER - Lodoicea maldivica

Coco de Mer -

The amazing Coco de Mer, which is French for 'Coconut of the Sea', is truly one of natures great wonders. It is in fact the seed of the rare palm - Lodoicea maldivica, a tree which incredibly holds no less than three botanical records.

Female flower -
1. The first is for producing the largest fruit so far recorded which weighed in at 42 kg!

2. The second is for having the world's heaviest seed which can weigh up to 17.6 kg.

3.And finally, the female flowers are the largest of any palm.

It is the sole member of the genus Lodoicea, and is native to the islands of Praslin and Curieuse in the Seychelles. At one time it was also found on the small islets of St Pierre, Chauve-Souris and Ile Ronde (Round Island), but now they are extinct.

The name of the genus, Lodoicea, is derived from Lodewicus, the Latinised form of Louis, in honour of King Louis XV of France. It originated before the 18th century when the Seychelles were still uninhabited.

History of the Coco de Mer

Coco de Mer
In centuries past the coconuts that fell from the trees and ended up in the sea would be carried away eastwards by the prevailing sea currents.

The nuts can only float after the germination process when they become hollow. In this way many drifted to the Maldives where they were gathered from the beaches and valued as an important trade and medicinal item.

This association is reflected in one of the plant's older botanical names, Lodoicea callipyge, in which callipyge is from the Greek meaning 'beautiful buttocks'. Other botanical names used in the past include Lodoicea sechellarum and Lodoicea sonneratii Baill.

Until the true source of the nut was discovered in 1768 by Dufresne, it was believed by many to grow on a mythical tree at the bottom of the sea. The seeds of the Coco de Mer have been highly prized over the centuries. So much so that their rarity caused great interest and commanded high prices in royal courts. Once in possession, the tough outer seed coat has been used to make bowls and other instruments.


Silhouette island -
The Seychelles has become a World Heritage Site, around which a third of the area is now protected. The main populations of Coco de Mer palms are found within the Praslin and Curieuse National Parks, and the trade in nuts is controlled by the Coco de Mer Decree of 1995.

Habitat loss is one of the major threats to the survival of remaining populations, and there have been numerous fires on the islands of Praslin and Curieuse. This has resulted in only immature trees remaining over large parts of these islands.

Firebreaks do exist at key sites in an effort to prevent devastating fires from sweeping through the last populations. There are a number of cultivated palms grown on a few of the other islands and are widely present in botanic gardens. However the collection of seeds from the ancient populations in order to promote these new, introduced populations may be a further threat to the remaining natural stands.

Unfortunately the history of exploitation continues today, and the collection of nuts has virtually stopped all natural regeneration of populations with the exception of the introduced population on Silhouette island.

For related articles click onto the following links:
THE CANNONBALL TREE -  Couroupita guianensis

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