History of Coconuts: How Did Coconuts Colonize the Tropical World?

The history of coconuts is believed to have started thousands of years ago in the islands of the western Pacific and eastern Indian oceans.

Carried firstly by ocean currents then by humans, coconuts spread throughout the humid tropics and beyond.

Its light, fibrous husk makes the coconut fruit and seed buoyant, allowing it to float easily on the oceans to many other areas to propagate.

Coconut palms (Cocos nucifera Linn) feature in Indian writings dating back well more than two millennia. Malay, Arab and Polynesian navigators were instrumental in bringing the coconut to Asia, East Africa and the Pacific.

European explorers brought it to West Africa, the Caribbean and across the Atlantic coast of tropical America in the 16th century, making the humble coconut trulypantropical.

First mentioned in 1555 in print, the English word coco-nut came from the Portuguese and Spanish word coco, meaning monkey face. The pioneering explorers found a likeness to a monkey’s face in the three round indented markings or eyes found at the base of the coconut.

Today, the coconut palm flourishes on islands and coastal areas of the tropical world. It grows lavishly from the Tropic of Cancer north of the Equator to the Tropic of Capricorn south of the Equator.

Even though they do extend a little bit outside the tropics, coconut palms seldom reproduce mature fruit there.

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