The coconut tree (Cocos nucifera) is a member of the palm tree family (Arecaceae) and the only living species of the genus Cocos. The term "coconut" (or the archaic "cocoanut") can refer to the whole coconut palm, the seed, or the fruit, which botanically is a drupe, not a nut. The name comes from the old Portuguese and Spanish word coco, meaning 'head' or 'skull', after the three indentations on the coconut shell that resemble facial features. They are ubiquitous in coastal tropical regions and are a cultural icon of the tropics.
It is one of the most useful trees in the world and is often referred to as the "tree of life". It provides food, fuel, cosmetics, folk medicine and building materials, among many other uses. The inner flesh of the mature seed, as well as the coconut milk extracted from it, form a regular part of the diets of many people in the tropics and subtropics. Coconuts are distinct from other fruits because their endosperm contains a large quantity of clear liquid, called coconut water or coconut juice. Mature, ripe coconuts can be used as edible seeds, or processed for oil and plant milk from the flesh, charcoal from the hard shell, and coir from the fibrous husk. Dried coconut flesh is called copra, and the oil and milk derived from it are commonly used in cooking – frying in particular – as well as in soaps and cosmetics. The hard shells, fibrous husks and long pinnate leaves can be used as material to make a variety of products for furnishing and decoration.
The coconut has cultural and religious significance in certain societies, particularly in India, where it is used in Hindu rituals. It forms the basis of wedding and worship rituals in Hinduism, a coconut religion in Vietnam, and features in the origin myths of several societies. The falling nature of their mature fruit has led to preoccupation with death by coconut.
Coconut, fruit of the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera), a tree of the palm family (Arecaceae). 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 slender, leaning, ringed trunk of the coconut palm rises to a height of up to 25 metres (80 feet) from a swollen base and is surmounted by a graceful crown of giant featherlike leaves. Mature fruits, ovoid or ellipsoid in shape, 300–450 mm (12–18 inches) in length and 150–200 mm (6–8 inches) in diameter, have a thick fibrous husk surrounding the familiar single-seeded nut of commerce. A hard shell encloses the insignificant embryo with its abundant endosperm, composed of both meat and liquid. Coconut fruits float readily and have been dispersed widely by ocean currents and by humans throughout the tropics.
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.
Although the coconut finds its greatest commercial utilization in the industrial countries of the Western world, its usefulness in its native areas of culture is even greater. Indonesians claim that coconuts have as many uses as there are days in a year. Other useful products derived from the coconut palm include toddy, palm cabbage, and construction materials. Toddy, a beverage drunk fresh, fermented, or distilled, is produced from the sweetish sap yielded by the young flower stalks when wounded or cut; toddy is also a source of sugar and alcohol. Palm cabbage, the delicate young bud cut from the top of the tree, is, like the buds from other palms, eaten as a salad vegetable. Mature palm leaves are used in thatching and weaving baskets. The fibrous, decay-resistant tree trunk is incorporated into the construction of huts; it is also exported as a cabinet wood called porcupine wood.