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The Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera) is a member of the Family Arecaceae (palm family). It is the only species in the genus Cocos, and is a large palm, growing to 30 m tall, with pinnate leaves 4-6 m long, pinnae 60-90 cm long; old leaves break away cleanly leaving the trunk smooth. The term coconut refers to the fruit of the coconut palm, though a nut and not a fruit.
The coconut palm is grown throughout the tropical world, for decoration as well as for its many culinary and non-culinary uses; virtually every part of the coconut palm has some human use.
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 (1,500 to 2,500 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, like 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; in drought conditions, the new leaves do not open well, and older leaves may become desiccated; fruit also tends to be shed. They may grow but not fruit properly in areas where there is not sufficient warmth, like Bermuda.
Coconuts are susceptible to the phytoplasma disease lethal yellowing. One recently selected cultivar, 'Maypan', has been bred for resistance to this disease. The fruit may also be damaged by eriophyid mites. The coconut is also used as a food plant by the larvae of many Lepidoptera species, including the following Batrachedra spp: B. arenosella, B. atriloqua (feeds exclusively on Cocos nucifera), B. mathesoni (feeds exclusively on Cocos nucifera), and B. nuciferae.
Coconut hispine beetle or Brontispa longissima gestro feeds on young leaves and damages seedlings and mature coconut palms. On September 27, 2007, Philippines' Metro Manila and 26 provinces were quarantined due to having been infested with this pest (to save the $800-million Philippine coconut industry).
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 favoured microclimates in the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area and around Cape Canaveral. They may likewise be grown in favoured 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.
The farthest north in the United States a coconut palm has been known to grow outdoors is in Newport Beach, California along the Pacific Coast Highway. In order for coconut palms to survive in Southern California they need sandy soil and minimal water in the winter to prevent root rot, and would benefit from root heating coils.
To open a coconut, the softest "eye" should be pierced with a skewer and the water should be drained. Then the coconut should be struck against a hard surface, such as concrete or a kitchen surface. It should break open similarly to an egg, cracking in more than one place. However, quite a lot of force is required. An easier way is to drain the water, then wrap the coconut in a towel and hit it with a hammer. A way to open a fresh coconut is to take a long, heavy, knife, such as a machete, and score a line across the middle of the coconut by repeatedly striking then rotating. The final stroke should be heavier than the previous to crack the coconut along the scored line. An easier way is to just throw it up in the air and let it land on a hard surface. If done right, it should just crack open enough. To the inexperienced hand, tossing a coconut might end up in a messy affair.
Nearly all parts of the coconut palm are useful, and the palms have a comparatively high yield, up to 75 fruits per year; it therefore has significant economic value. The name for the coconut palm in Sanskrit is kalpa vriksha, which translates as "the tree which provides all the necessities of life". In Malay, the coconut is known as pokok seribu guna, "the tree of a thousand uses". In the Philippines, the coconut is commonly given the title "Tree of Life".
Coconuts are extensively used in Hindu religious rites. Coconuts are usually offered to the gods, and a coconut is smashed on the ground or on some object as part of an initiation or inauguration of building projects, facility, ship, etc.; this act signifies a sacrifice of ego, the idea that wealth stems from divinity, and the idea that, if due credit is not given, bad karma is taken on. In Hindu mythology it is referred as Kalpavruksha. In Hindu mythologies it is said that Kalapavruksha gives what is asked for.