COCONUT: A USEFUL PALM TREE

DR. S.M.ALAM
Sep
 07 - 13, 2009

Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.) locally known as Narial is the most important of the economic species of palms. These attractive palms, having height up to 90 ft, have life span of medium to long spread by their floating, oval-husked nuts.

The name nucifera means "nut bearing". They are large, hard-shelled brown nut having a white pulp and hollow interior containing a milky juice. It grows mostly in areas lying within the latitudes 20∞N and 20∞S of the equator. The family Palmae, with about 4000 species, is widespread in tropical regions of the world. Its members are monocotyledonous, mostly with tall, straight, un-branched trunks carrying a canopy of pinnate leaves, highly ornamental and attractive.

In Pakistan, coconut is an important palm tree. The country's soil and climatic conditions are suitable for coconut cultivation. It is cultivated in the southern parts of Sindh, and coastal areas of Bolachistan. It is planted in houses, farms on a preliminary basis for the last two decades. Coconut cultivation requires heavy investments, prolong duration for fruiting. Soil should be well drained, fertile, moist deep rich loamy, and well maintained. The coconut is well adapted to salty and sandy conditions and is often found growing along sea sides.

Trees are resistant to high wind and often withstand hurricanes. Sea shore of Thatta and Karachi are considered best for coconut growing as it is free from frost. Coconut requires warm climate with temperature of 22-25oC. Average annual temperature around 32oC or more is considered best for its cultivation.

Nowadays, the coconut fruits are easily available in the local market of the city. The coconut fruit has a nut, which grows to the size of a man's head, containing an edible substance known as liquid water that is sweet and pleasant to the taste and white like milk.

The fruit is a large nut, three-sided, with a thick and tough husk and a hard interior shell, each weighing about 1 to 2 kg or more, when fresh. The cavity of this pulp is filled with a liquid clear as water, cool and better flavored and more delicious than wine or any other kind of drink whatever. It is propagated by seeds (whole nuts) or by tissue culture.

The coconut is probably one of the most common palm trees on the planet, growing in almost every tropical zone. The important coconut growing countries are the Philippines, India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, the South Sea Islands, Malaysia, Mexico, New Guinea, and Bangladesh, Kenya, and other tropical countries.

In these countries, coconut is cultivated as a commercial crop while in parts of USA (Florida and Hawaii) it is an ornamental avenue tree. Philippines, with production of about 10,000 million nuts per year, ranks first in the world production. Indonesia with about 8000 million nuts ranks second and India with about 6000 million nuts comes next.

Coconut palm has a tall slender trunk that keeps its diameter same from the base to the top. Its leaves are provided with beautifully designed lacy appearance and form an umbrella like structure at the top of plant.

Coconut is a monococious plant producing male and female flowers on the same tree, but in different parts of the same inflorescence. There are numbers of varieties, which are generally classified as tall or dwarf. In the tall varieties, male flowers open for ahead of the females, which are thus essentially cross-pollinated. The dwarf trees, on the other hand, are mostly self-pollinated. The tall trees are heterozygous and the male parent is generally extraneous. Coconut cultivation requires heavy investments, prolonged duration for fruiting, and lots of patience to bear.

The importance of the coconut palm lies in the fact that each and every part of the trees is economically useful. Farmers largely grow coconut and the bulk of the produce is disposed of in the form of nuts, and about 80% are used for edible purposes. The water of the tender coconut is nutrition and wholesome beverage. One whole coconut has about 230 calories. Total fat content is 3 gram all saturated. It contains sugar, minerals, amino acid and vitamin C. The percentage of amino acids in protein is higher than in cow's milk.

Coconut water is therefore used in infant food. It is also used for embryo culture, in combination with egg yolk, coconut water serves as a diligent and carrier for bore and cattle semen used for artificial insemination, which helps in extending the lifetime of semen from about two days to eight days.

The products of commercial importance are kernel, copra, oil, oil cake and fiber. Coconut oil has several uses in making soap, shampoo, cosmetic products, shaving creams etc. The kernel is much valued as feed, and uses in culinary preparations as well as in the preposition of candies, sweets and other confectionery.

Oil from the ripe kernel is one of the important edible oils of the people of Asian countries. For nearly 1000 coconuts, about 60 kg of coir can be made. Choir making is mostly a cottage industry. The shell, husk, roots, flowers and wood of trunks are useful products. Extracted fiber or coir are making floor mats, ropes, twines, rubberized rugs, baskets, hats, fans, belts, chairs, bags, fish containers, cushions etc.

In addition to these commercially important products, the trunk is used as a building material and for making furniture. Husks also provide fuel for cooking and fibre for making clothing. The leaves, after planting, are utilized for thatching houses and the midrib of the leaf for making brooms and brush.

The juice from the inflorescence is converted into jugglery, sugar, vinegar and sweet or fermented toddy. Coconut tree produces materials for house construction, basket makings and fresh or fermented juice.