By Erika, age 13
The Coco de Mer, or coconut of the sea, is a palm, endemic to the Seychelles islands of Praslin and Curieuse. The name comes from several hundred years ago when the nut was first discovered. Sailors saw it come up from below the waves, so they thought the nuts came from an underwater forest.
After people began looking at them more closely, they realized that it looks like a woman’s pelvic area – both the front and the back. Thus, a new name was born: the Lady Fruit. New rumors spread that the fruit came from the Garden of Eden and women evolved from fruit. These fruits were regarded with the utmost respect. In the Maldives, all seeds that washed up on the beaches had to be given to the king. The death penalty was given anyone who kept or sold the nuts. In Europe, the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II, bought one for 4,000 gold florins which is about $560,000!
Once the Seychelles was inhabited in the late 1700s, people discovered the Coco de Mer trees and the fact that they did not grow underwater. The Coco de Mer is one of the 6 palms that are endemic to the Seychelles, but it is the only one with separate male and female trees. The female trees bear the fruit that looks like a woman’s pelvic area, while the male palms have phallic-shaped inflorescences, which produce pollen for over 10 years!
The female Coco de Mers take 32 years to mature enough to bear fruit. Incredibly, the fruit takes 6 to 7 years to grow and usually weighs between 15 and 30 kilograms (about 33 to 66 pounds) making it the largest seed in the plant kingdom. The largest recorded fruit was 42 kilograms (just over 92 pounds)! Because female trees bear such large fruit, they live 10 to 15 years less than male trees. Even now, the pollination of the Coco de Mer is not fully understood. This lack of information has contributed to the legend that the male trees uproot themselves and walk over to the female palms to mate. Legend also says that these trees are quite shy, and anyone who sees the trees engaging in intercourse will either die or go blind.
The best place to find them is in the Vallée de Mai, a protected forest on Praslin. The Coco de Mer palm is an amazing organism. Unfortunately, it is endangered, due to poaching. People like to eat the year old fruit kernels and sell the fruit when they look like ladies. However, you are not allowed to buy the fruit kernels, so you have to have someone offer it to you… or you poach it. Movements are happening around the Seychelles to protect the Coco de Mer, so it can reproduce and hopefully increase its numbers.