Invasive Species Compendium

Detailed coverage of invasive species threatening livelihoods and the environment worldwide

Datasheet

Cocos nucifera
(coconut)

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Datasheet

Cocos nucifera (coconut)

Summary

  • Last modified
  • 25 November 2019
  • Datasheet Type(s)
  • Invasive Species
  • Host Plant
  • Preferred Scientific Name
  • Cocos nucifera
  • Preferred Common Name
  • coconut
  • Taxonomic Tree
  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •   Kingdom: Plantae
  •     Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •       Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •         Class: Monocotyledonae
  • Summary of Invasiveness
  • C. nucifera is a palm tree with a great capacity for natural dispersal. The nuts have the capability to survive up to 120 days floating in the sea water and germinate when they make landfall. This dispersal trait facilitates the spreading...

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Pictures

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PictureTitleCaptionCopyright
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); habit. Kahanu Gardens NTBG, Kaeleku Hana, Maui, November, 2009.
TitleHabit
CaptionCocos nucifera (coconut palm); habit. Kahanu Gardens NTBG, Kaeleku Hana, Maui, November, 2009.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2009 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); habit. Kahanu Gardens NTBG, Kaeleku Hana, Maui, November, 2009.
HabitCocos nucifera (coconut palm); habit. Kahanu Gardens NTBG, Kaeleku Hana, Maui, November, 2009.©Forest & Kim Starr-2009 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); habit. Kapuaiwi Coconut Grove, Kaunakakai, Molokai, Hawaii, USA. April , 2012.
TitleHabit
CaptionCocos nucifera (coconut palm); habit. Kapuaiwi Coconut Grove, Kaunakakai, Molokai, Hawaii, USA. April , 2012.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2012 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); habit. Kapuaiwi Coconut Grove, Kaunakakai, Molokai, Hawaii, USA. April , 2012.
HabitCocos nucifera (coconut palm); habit. Kapuaiwi Coconut Grove, Kaunakakai, Molokai, Hawaii, USA. April , 2012.©Forest & Kim Starr-2012 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); habit. Lake Trail, Laysan. September 12, 2013
TitleHabit
CaptionCocos nucifera (coconut palm); habit. Lake Trail, Laysan. September 12, 2013
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2013 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); habit. Lake Trail, Laysan. September 12, 2013
HabitCocos nucifera (coconut palm); habit. Lake Trail, Laysan. September 12, 2013©Forest & Kim Starr-2013 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); crown and fruit. YMCA Keanae, Maui, Hawaii, USA. May, 2009.
TitleCrown and fruit
CaptionCocos nucifera (coconut palm); crown and fruit. YMCA Keanae, Maui, Hawaii, USA. May, 2009.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2009 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); crown and fruit. YMCA Keanae, Maui, Hawaii, USA. May, 2009.
Crown and fruitCocos nucifera (coconut palm); crown and fruit. YMCA Keanae, Maui, Hawaii, USA. May, 2009.©Forest & Kim Starr-2009 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); crown and fruit. Makawao, Maui, Hawaii, USA. December, 2006.
TitleCrown and fruit
CaptionCocos nucifera (coconut palm); crown and fruit. Makawao, Maui, Hawaii, USA. December, 2006.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2006 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); crown and fruit. Makawao, Maui, Hawaii, USA. December, 2006.
Crown and fruitCocos nucifera (coconut palm); crown and fruit. Makawao, Maui, Hawaii, USA. December, 2006.©Forest & Kim Starr-2006 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); fruits. Kanaha pond, Maui, Hawaii, USA. February, 2001.
TitleFruits
CaptionCocos nucifera (coconut palm); fruits. Kanaha pond, Maui, Hawaii, USA. February, 2001.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2001 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); fruits. Kanaha pond, Maui, Hawaii, USA. February, 2001.
FruitsCocos nucifera (coconut palm); fruits. Kanaha pond, Maui, Hawaii, USA. February, 2001.©Forest & Kim Starr-2001 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); fruits. Kanaha Beach, Maui, Hawaii, USA. November, 2006.
TitleFruits
CaptionCocos nucifera (coconut palm); fruits. Kanaha Beach, Maui, Hawaii, USA. November, 2006.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2007 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); fruits. Kanaha Beach, Maui, Hawaii, USA. November, 2006.
FruitsCocos nucifera (coconut palm); fruits. Kanaha Beach, Maui, Hawaii, USA. November, 2006.©Forest & Kim Starr-2007 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); fruit. Community Garden, Sand Island, Midway Atoll. June, 2008.
TitleFruit
CaptionCocos nucifera (coconut palm); fruit. Community Garden, Sand Island, Midway Atoll. June, 2008.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2008 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); fruit. Community Garden, Sand Island, Midway Atoll. June, 2008.
FruitCocos nucifera (coconut palm); fruit. Community Garden, Sand Island, Midway Atoll. June, 2008.©Forest & Kim Starr-2008 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); fruit. Kahului, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2001.
TitleFruit
CaptionCocos nucifera (coconut palm); fruit. Kahului, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2001.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2007 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); fruit. Kahului, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2001.
FruitCocos nucifera (coconut palm); fruit. Kahului, Maui, Hawaii, USA. April, 2001.©Forest & Kim Starr-2007 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); habit, young tree nr ocean. Honomanu, Maui, Hawaii, USA. June, 2009.
TitleHabit
CaptionCocos nucifera (coconut palm); habit, young tree nr ocean. Honomanu, Maui, Hawaii, USA. June, 2009.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2007 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); habit, young tree nr ocean. Honomanu, Maui, Hawaii, USA. June, 2009.
HabitCocos nucifera (coconut palm); habit, young tree nr ocean. Honomanu, Maui, Hawaii, USA. June, 2009.©Forest & Kim Starr-2007 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); young plants with Laysan albatross chick. Commodore Avenue, Sand Island, Midway Atoll. June, 2008.
TitleYoung plants with Laysan albatross chick
CaptionCocos nucifera (coconut palm); young plants with Laysan albatross chick. Commodore Avenue, Sand Island, Midway Atoll. June, 2008.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2008 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); young plants with Laysan albatross chick. Commodore Avenue, Sand Island, Midway Atoll. June, 2008.
Young plants with Laysan albatross chickCocos nucifera (coconut palm); young plants with Laysan albatross chick. Commodore Avenue, Sand Island, Midway Atoll. June, 2008.©Forest & Kim Starr-2008 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); seedling pile and Laysan albatross chicks. Cannon School field, Sand Island, Midway Atoll. June, 2008.
TitleSeedling pile and Laysan albatross chicks
CaptionCocos nucifera (coconut palm); seedling pile and Laysan albatross chicks. Cannon School field, Sand Island, Midway Atoll. June, 2008.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2008 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); seedling pile and Laysan albatross chicks. Cannon School field, Sand Island, Midway Atoll. June, 2008.
Seedling pile and Laysan albatross chicksCocos nucifera (coconut palm); seedling pile and Laysan albatross chicks. Cannon School field, Sand Island, Midway Atoll. June, 2008.©Forest & Kim Starr-2008 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); coconut fruit and shell litter on boulder beach. Lelekea, Maui, Hawaii, USA. May, 2004.
TitleCoconut fruit and shell litter
CaptionCocos nucifera (coconut palm); coconut fruit and shell litter on boulder beach. Lelekea, Maui, Hawaii, USA. May, 2004.
Copyright©Forest & Kim Starr-2004 - CC BY 3.0
Cocos nucifera (coconut palm); coconut fruit and shell litter on boulder beach. Lelekea, Maui, Hawaii, USA. May, 2004.
Coconut fruit and shell litterCocos nucifera (coconut palm); coconut fruit and shell litter on boulder beach. Lelekea, Maui, Hawaii, USA. May, 2004.©Forest & Kim Starr-2004 - CC BY 3.0

Identity

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Preferred Scientific Name

  • Cocos nucifera L.

Preferred Common Name

  • coconut

Other Scientific Names

  • Calappa nucifera (L.) Kuntze
  • Cocos indica Royle
  • Cocos nana Griffith
  • Cocos nucifera var. synphyllica Becc.

International Common Names

  • English: coconut palm; copra
  • Spanish: coco de agua; cocotero; palma de coco; palmera cocotera; palmera de coco
  • French: coco; cocotier; cocoyer; noix de coco
  • Chinese: ye zi
  • Portuguese: coqueiro

Local Common Names

  • American Samoa: niu
  • Brazil: coco da India; coco de Bahia; coco-da-bahia; coco-da-índia; coqueiro; coqueiro-da-bahia; coqueiro-da-índia; inaiá-guaçuíba; inajá-guaçú
  • Cambodia: dôong
  • Caribbean: cocos; cocospalm; klapperboom
  • Cuba: coco blanco; coco indio; coco morado
  • Germany: Kokosnusspalme
  • India: narikel; nariyal; narlu; thengu; yubi
  • Indonesia: kelapa
  • Italy: cocco
  • Laos: phaawz
  • Lesser Antilles: cocotier; noix de cocos
  • Malaysia: kelapa
  • Netherlands: Kokospalm
  • Northern Mariana Islands: nizok
  • Philippines: iniúg; lubi; niog; niyóg
  • Sweden: Kokospalm
  • Thailand: ma phrao
  • Vietnam: dùa

EPPO code

  • CCNNU (Cocos nucifera)

Summary of Invasiveness

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C. nucifera is a palm tree with a great capacity for natural dispersal. The nuts have the capability to survive up to 120 days floating in the sea water and germinate when they make landfall. This dispersal trait facilitates the spreading of this species far from its origin without human assistance (Chan and Elevitch, 2006). Once established in new coastal areas, C. nucifera can grow forming dense monospecific thickets (Young et al., 2010). Humans have also actively introduced large numbers of coconut palms inland from the natural coastal habitat of the species, and nuts (fruits) can move up to 10 m from the mother tree when growing inland. In addition to its great dispersal ability, C. nucifera has high germination rates, and nuts have no dormancy and do not require special treatments to germinate, which are also elements facilitating its establishment and spread into new habitats (Duke, 1983; Chan and Elevitch, 2006). 

Taxonomic Tree

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  • Domain: Eukaryota
  •     Kingdom: Plantae
  •         Phylum: Spermatophyta
  •             Subphylum: Angiospermae
  •                 Class: Monocotyledonae
  •                     Order: Arecales
  •                         Family: Arecaceae
  •                             Genus: Cocos
  •                                 Species: Cocos nucifera

Notes on Taxonomy and Nomenclature

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The family Arecaceae includes 183 genera and 2361 species distributed mostly in humid tropical and subtropical regions of the world (Stevens, 2012).  The species C. nucifera (coconut) has a number of commercial and traditional cultivars. Coconut palm contains tall cultivars, sometimes referred to as var. typica, as well as dwarf cultivars, sometimes referred to as var. nana (Griff.) Nar. Opinions about the origin of the dwarf differ. Aspects such as drought resistant, cold tolerant, seed size, shape and weight are important factors in the selection of new cultivars. 

Description

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C. nucifera palms are unbranched, monoecious trees with smooth, columnar, light grey-brown trunk, usually 9-18 m height and sometimes taller (up to 30 m); dwarf selections also exist. Leaves pinnate, feather shaped, 4-7 m long and 1-1.5 m wide at the broadest part. Leaf stalks 1-2 cm in length and thorn-less. Inflorescence consists of female and male axillary flowers. Flowers are small and light yellow, in clusters that emerge from canoe-shaped sheaths among the leaves. Male flowers are small and more numerous. Female flowers 1 or fewer than male flowers; larger, spherical structures, about 25 mm in diameter. Fruit a drupe, roughly ovoid, up to 30 cm long and 20 cm wide, composed of a thick, fibrous husk surrounding a somewhat spherical nut with a hard, brittle, hairy shell. The fruit consists of (from the outside to in) a thin hard skin (exocarp), a thicker layer of fibrous mesocarp (husk), the hard endocarp (shell), the white endosperm (kernel), and a large cavity filled with watery liquid (coconut water or milk). The endosperm is soft and jellylike when immature but becomes firm with maturity. Coconut water or milk is abundant in unripe fruit but is gradually absorbed as ripening proceeds. The fruits are green at first, turning brownish as they mature; yellow varieties go from yellow to brown (Chan and Elevitch, 2006; Orwa et al., 2009).

Plant Type

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Perennial
Seed propagated
Tree
Woody

Distribution

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C. nucifera is native to coastal areas of Melanesia and South-East Asia, probably Malaysia, Indonesia (Moluccas Islands), Philippines and Papua New Guinea (Chan and Elevitch, 2006; USDA-ARS, 2014). The species is a common component of island and coastal ecosystems around the world, occurring in more than 80 countries across Asia, Africa, America and Oceania (Chan and Elevitch, 2006; Orwa et al., 2009; USDA-ARS, 2014). 

Distribution Table

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The distribution in this summary table is based on all the information available. When several references are cited, they may give conflicting information on the status. Further details may be available for individual references in the Distribution Table Details section which can be selected by going to Generate Report.

Last updated: 25 Feb 2021
Continent/Country/Region Distribution Last Reported Origin First Reported Invasive Planted Reference Notes

Africa

AngolaPresentIntroduced
BeninPresentIntroduced
Burkina FasoPresentIntroduced
CameroonPresentIntroduced
Central African RepublicPresentIntroduced
ChadPresentIntroduced
Congo, Democratic Republic of thePresentIntroduced
Côte d'IvoirePresentIntroduced
GabonPresentIntroduced
GambiaPresentIntroduced
GhanaPresentIntroduced
GuineaPresentIntroduced
Guinea-BissauPresentIntroduced
KenyaPresentIntroduced
LiberiaPresentIntroduced
MadagascarPresentIntroduced
MaliPresentIntroduced
MauritaniaPresentIntroduced
MauritiusPresentIntroduced
MozambiquePresentIntroduced
NigeriaPresentIntroduced
RéunionPresentIntroduced
SenegalPresentIntroduced
SeychellesPresentIntroduced
Sierra LeonePresentIntroduced
TanzaniaPresentIntroduced
-Zanzibar IslandPresentIntroduced
TogoPresentIntroduced
UgandaPresentIntroduced

Asia

BangladeshPresentIntroduced
British Indian Ocean Territory
-Chagos ArchipelagoPresentIntroduced
BruneiPresent
CambodiaPresentIntroduced
ChinaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-GuangdongPresentIntroduced
-HainanPresentIntroduced
-YunnanPresentIntroduced
Cocos IslandsPresentIntroduced
IndiaPresentIntroduced
-Andaman and Nicobar IslandsPresentIntroduced
-Andhra PradeshPresentIntroduced
-AssamPresent
-KarnatakaPresentIntroduced
-KeralaPresentIntroduced
-MaharashtraPresent
-Tamil NaduPresentIntroduced
-West BengalPresentIntroduced
IndonesiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Irian JayaPresentPlanted
-JavaPresent
-Maluku IslandsPresentNative
-SulawesiPresentPlanted
-SumatraPresent
JapanPresentIntroducedOgasawara-shoto
LaosPresent
MalaysiaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-Peninsular MalaysiaPresent
-SabahPresent
-SarawakPresentPlanted
MaldivesPresentIntroduced
MyanmarPresentIntroduced
PakistanPresent
PhilippinesPresentNative
SingaporePresent
Sri LankaPresentIntroduced
TaiwanPresentIntroduced
ThailandPresentIntroduced
VietnamPresentIntroduced

North America

AnguillaPresentIntroduced
Antigua and BarbudaPresentIntroduced
ArubaPresentIntroduced
BahamasPresentIntroduced
BarbadosPresentIntroduced
BelizePresentIntroduced
BermudaPresentIntroduced
British Virgin IslandsPresentIntroduced
Cayman IslandsPresentIntroduced
Costa RicaPresentIntroduced
CubaPresentIntroducedListed as potentially invasive
CuraçaoPresentIntroduced
DominicaPresentIntroduced
Dominican RepublicPresentIntroduced
El SalvadorPresentIntroduced
GrenadaPresentIntroduced
GuadeloupePresentIntroduced
GuatemalaPresentIntroduced
HaitiPresentIntroduced
HondurasPresentIntroduced
JamaicaPresentIntroduced
MartiniquePresentIntroduced
MexicoPresentIntroduced
MontserratPresentIntroduced
Netherlands AntillesPresentIntroduced
NicaraguaPresentIntroduced
PanamaPresentIntroduced
Puerto RicoPresentIntroducedInvasive
Saint Kitts and NevisPresentIntroduced
Saint LuciaPresentIntroduced
Saint Vincent and the GrenadinesPresentIntroduced
Trinidad and TobagoPresentIntroduced
Turks and Caicos IslandsPresentIntroduced
U.S. Virgin IslandsPresentIntroduced
United StatesPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-FloridaPresentIntroducedInvasive Category II
-GeorgiaPresentIntroduced
-HawaiiPresentIntroduced
-North CarolinaPresentIntroduced
-South CarolinaPresentIntroduced

Oceania

American SamoaPresentIntroduced
AustraliaPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-QueenslandPresentNative
Christmas IslandPresentIntroduced
Cook IslandsPresentIntroduced
Federated States of MicronesiaPresentIntroduced
FijiPresentIntroduced
French PolynesiaPresentIntroduced
GuamPresentIntroduced
KiribatiPresentIntroduced
Marshall IslandsPresentIntroduced
NauruPresentIntroduced
New CaledoniaPresentIntroduced
NiuePresentIntroduced
Northern Mariana IslandsPresentIntroduced
PalauPresentIntroduced
Papua New GuineaPresentNative
SamoaPresentNative
Solomon IslandsPresentNative
TokelauPresentNative
TuvaluPresentIntroduced
VanuatuPresentNative
Wallis and FutunaPresentIntroduced

South America

ArgentinaPresentIntroduced
BoliviaPresentIntroduced
BrazilPresentPresent based on regional distribution.
-AcrePresentIntroduced
-AlagoasPresentIntroduced
-AmapaPresentIntroduced
-AmazonasPresent
-BahiaPresentIntroduced
-CearaPresentIntroduced
-Distrito FederalPresent
-Espirito SantoPresentIntroduced
-Fernando de NoronhaPresentIntroduced
-GoiasPresentIntroduced
-MaranhaoPresentIntroduced
-Mato GrossoPresentIntroduced
-Mato Grosso do SulPresentIntroduced
-Minas GeraisPresentIntroduced
-ParaPresentIntroduced
-ParaibaPresentIntroduced
-ParanaPresentIntroduced
-PernambucoPresentIntroduced
-PiauiPresentIntroduced
-Rio de JaneiroPresentIntroduced
-Rio Grande do NortePresentIntroduced
-Rio Grande do SulPresentIntroduced
-RondoniaPresentIntroduced
-RoraimaPresentIntroduced
-Santa CatarinaPresentIntroduced
-Sao PauloPresentIntroduced
-SergipePresentIntroduced
-TocantinsPresentIntroduced
ChilePresentIntroduced
-Easter IslandPresentIntroduced
ColombiaPresentIntroduced
EcuadorPresentIntroduced
French GuianaPresentIntroduced
GuyanaPresentIntroduced
ParaguayPresentIntroduced
PeruPresentIntroduced
SurinamePresentIntroduced
UruguayPresentIntroduced
VenezuelaPresentIntroducedPlanted

History of Introduction and Spread

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In prehistoric times, wild forms of C. nucifera are believed to have been carried on oceanic currents to islands in the Pacific (Melanesia, Polynesia, and Micronesia) and to coastal India, Sri Lanka, and islands in the India Ocean (i.e., Seychelles, Andaman, and Mauritius). It is also believed that Polynesians migrating into the Pacific 4500 years ago brought with them coconut palms. At about the same time, people from Indo-Malaysia were colonizing islands in Micronesia. About 3000 years ago, Malay and Arab traders spread improved coconut types to India, Sri Lanka and East Africa (Chan and Elevitch, 2006). During the sixteenth century, European explorers introduced C. nucifera into West Africa, the Atlantic Coast of America and the West Indies (Little and Skolmen, 2003; Chan and Elevitch, 2006). The arrival of Europeans in the Pacific islands in the nineteenth century signalled the international commercialization of this species and coconut oil was the first vegetable oil commercialized in world trade. During this period, large coconut plantations were established in European colonies around the world including India, the Philippines, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu and Samoa (Duke, 1983; Chan and Elevitch, 2006; PROTA, 2014). 

Habitat

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C. nucifera grows on sandy beaches and coastal areas in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. This species has been introduced inland by humans and can be found planted and naturalized in gardens, parks, plantations, and along roadsides in areas with abundant sunlight, regular rainfall (1500 mm to 2500 mm annually) and high temperatures throughout the year (21°C to 30°C annually; Chan and Elevitch, 2006; Orwa et al., 2009).

Habitat List

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CategorySub-CategoryHabitatPresenceStatus
Terrestrial
Terrestrial ManagedCultivated / agricultural land Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial ManagedManaged forests, plantations and orchards Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial ManagedDisturbed areas Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial ManagedRail / roadsides Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
Terrestrial ManagedUrban / peri-urban areas Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
LittoralCoastal areas Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
LittoralCoastal areas Present, no further details Natural
LittoralCoastal areas Present, no further details Productive/non-natural
LittoralCoastal dunes Present, no further details Harmful (pest or invasive)
LittoralCoastal dunes Present, no further details Natural
LittoralCoastal dunes Present, no further details Productive/non-natural

Biology and Ecology

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Growth and Development

Tall palms produce about 10 leaves during the first year, dwarf palms about 14. In subsequent years, more and ever-larger leaves are formed, until full leaf size is attained and annual production levels off at 12-16 leaves for tall and 20-22 leaves for dwarf palms. Since a leaf of a tall palm remains on the tree about 2.5 years after unfolding, the leaf number in the crown levels off at 30-35 after 6 or 7 years. The emerging 'spear' leaf replaces the eldest leaf which is about to fall; in this way the canopy reaches a steady state in respect of leaf area and leaf age. The spear leaf represents the midway-stage between initiation and fall, because the number of leaf initials still enfolded by the spear leaf is about equal to the number of unfolded leaves.

The numbers of adventitious roots are high: normally 2000-4000 per palm. Like the leaves, the roots are replaced in a regular fashion: new roots emerging from the trunk above the others take over from decaying roots. There are no data available on the rate of root replacement.

The steady state of both the canopy and the root system suggests that the coconut palm is built for a steady pace of growth in a constant environment. The large organs spend a long period in the pipeline – for example, about 2.5 years from initiation to unfolding for a leaf – and these long lead times give the palm a certain inflexibility. Under adverse conditions only flowering and fruiting pass through a series of phases during which the commitments can be adjusted downwards: reduced nut size and filling, premature nut fall, reduced fruit set, fewer pistillate flowers, smaller inflorescences and aborted inflorescences.

Thus stress affects yield much more than it affects growth. Growth can be slowed down, but the size of new leaves and roots has been fixed a long time in advance and cannot be adjusted to short-term stress periods. Inasmuch as leaf emergence slows down, this further reduces yield potential, as the emergence of the inflorescence follows the emergence of the subtending leaf.

At the rosette stage the growing point continues to enlarge until the size of the leaf initials reflects the prevailing growing conditions; then trunk formation starts. Widely spaced palms growing under favourable conditions are therefore larger than closely spaced palms or palms on poor sites. At close spacing, height growth is accelerated at the expense of flowering and fruiting.

Precocity and yield are positively correlated with annual leaf formation; hence dwarf palms yield earlier (first flowering about 2 years after germination against a minimum of 4 years for tall palms) and more than tall palms. Stem elongation begins before first flowering, but it is not clear what determines the end of the juvenile period.

Other Botanical Information

According to flowering, four categories of reproductive behaviour can be distinguished, ranging from strict allogamy (palms with short female phase without overlapping the male phase of the same or following inflorescences) to semi-direct autogamy (a long female phase overlapping the male phase of the same inflorescence as well as that of the following one). Although autogamy is possible in tall cultivars, these are usually cross-pollinating and heterogeneous. Dwarfs are usually self-pollinating and homogeneous. Pollination is by wind as well as by insects.

Coconuts can also be divided according to the shape of the nut: the Niu kafa type that evolved naturally (triangular nuts with a thick husk, thick shell and slow germination); and the Niu vai type that developed under cultivation (round nuts, thinner husk and shell, and early germination).

There are three dwarf-cultivar coconuts: the 'Niu Leka' from Fiji, differing from the tall only by its very short internodes and short rigid leaves; the medium-sized coconuts, such as the 'Malaysian Dwarf' from Indonesia, the 'Gangabondam' from India and the 'King' coconut from Sri Lanka; and the small dwarf cultivars that occur in various countries.

The 'Makapuno' from the Philippines and the 'Kelapa kopjor' from Indonesia are palms with nuts in which the endosperm almost fills the entire nut cavity. The endosperm is soft and has a peculiar taste, and is considered a delicacy. The nuts do not germinate but the embryos can be cultivated in vitro. This character may appear in any tall cultivar.

Ecology

Coconut is essentially a crop of the humid tropics. It is fairly adaptable with regard to temperature and water supply, and so highly valued that it is still common near the limits of its ecological zone. The annual sunlight requirement is estimated at above 2000 hours, with maybe a lower limit of 120 hours per month. The optimum mean annual temperature is estimated at about 27°C, with an average diurnal variation between 5 and 7°C. For good nut yields, a minimum monthly mean of 20°C is required. Temperatures below 7°C may seriously damage young coconut palms, but varietal differences exist in low temperature tolerance.

Evenly-distributed rainfall above 2000 mm and a high relative humidity are preferred, but the leaves are designed to minimize water loss and can stand drought periods of several months. Hence groundwater (for example, on coastal plains) and irrigation can replace rains, but water shortage reduces yields.

The coconut palm thrives on a wide range of soils, from coarse sand to clay, provided the soils have adequate drainage and aeration, but does best on well-drained sandy soils. It tolerates alkaline soils with pH 8 and acid soils with pH 4.5 or higher. The species tolerates saline and infertile soils as well as salt-spray conditions (Chan and Elevitch, 2006; Orwa et al., 2009).

Latitude/Altitude Ranges

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Latitude North (°N)Latitude South (°S)Altitude Lower (m)Altitude Upper (m)
27 -25 0 1200

Air Temperature

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Parameter Lower limit Upper limit
Absolute minimum temperature (ºC) 0
Mean annual temperature (ºC) 22 35
Mean maximum temperature of hottest month (ºC) 30 38
Mean minimum temperature of coldest month (ºC) 4 12

Rainfall

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ParameterLower limitUpper limitDescription
Dry season duration04number of consecutive months with <40 mm rainfall
Mean annual rainfall12002300mm; lower/upper limits

Rainfall Regime

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Bimodal
Uniform

Soil Tolerances

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Soil drainage

  • free

Soil reaction

  • acid
  • neutral

Soil texture

  • heavy
  • light
  • medium

Special soil tolerances

  • saline

Means of Movement and Dispersal

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C. nucifera spreads only by seeds. Seeds are dispersed by water, gravity and by people. Naturally, nuts reach new coastal areas floating in the sea water. Plants growing inland can disperse their nuts up to 10 metres just by gravity, however, the spreading of coconut plants inland is performed primarily by humans (Chan and Elevitch, 2006; Orwa et al., 2009).

Pathway Causes

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CauseNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Crop productionPlanted in plantations as overhead shade tree Yes Yes Chan and Elevitch (2006)
DisturbancePlanted in disturbed areas Yes Yes Chan and Elevitch (2006)
FoodCoconut Yes Yes Chan and Elevitch (2006)
Habitat restoration and improvementPlanted to stabilise coastal areas Yes Yes Chan and Elevitch (2006)
Hedges and windbreaksOne of the most wind tolerant plants in the world Yes Yes Chan and Elevitch (2006)
HorticultureNut kernels are used to feed animals Yes Yes Chan and Elevitch (2006)
Industrial purposesCoconut oil Yes Yes Chan and Elevitch (2006)
Landscape improvementHotels in coastal areas Yes Yes Chan and Elevitch (2006)
Ornamental purposesMostly coastal areas Yes Yes Chan and Elevitch (2006)
People foragingCoconut kernel, coconut cream, coconut water, heart of the palm Yes Yes Chan and Elevitch (2006)
Timber tradeStems are used for poles, sawn timber, roofing shingles, handcraft and furniture Yes Yes Chan and Elevitch (2006)

Pathway Vectors

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VectorNotesLong DistanceLocalReferences
Floating vegetation and debrisNuts can survive up to 120 days floating in the sea Yes Yes Chan and Elevitch (2006)
WaterNuts can survive up to 120 days floating in the sea Yes Yes Chan and Elevitch (2006)

Impact Summary

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CategoryImpact
Cultural/amenity Positive and negative
Economic/livelihood Positive and negative
Environment (generally) Positive and negative
Human health Positive and negative

Environmental Impact

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C. nucifera is considered one of the most successful plants colonizing new habitats. C. nucifera is a common component of many tropical and subtropical island and coastal ecosystems around the world (Chan and Elevitch, 2006; Orwa et al., 2009; Young et al., 2010). In coastal areas where C. nucifera becomes dominant, it has been suggested that this species may have negative impacts on floristic, structural and soil characteristics of coastal native forests (Kairo et al., 2003; Young et al., 2010; Oviedo Prieto et al., 2012). For example, in the coastal forest of the Palmyra Atoll in the Northern Pacific, the high abundance of coconut plants has been associated with lower diversity of native plants and regenerating understory, lower abundance of major macronutrients and lower energy content of soil organic matter (Young et al., 2010).  

Risk and Impact Factors

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Invasiveness
  • Proved invasive outside its native range
  • Has a broad native range
  • Abundant in its native range
  • Highly adaptable to different environments
  • Capable of securing and ingesting a wide range of food
  • Highly mobile locally
  • Benefits from human association (i.e. it is a human commensal)
  • Long lived
  • Fast growing
Impact outcomes
  • Altered trophic level
  • Damaged ecosystem services
  • Ecosystem change/ habitat alteration
  • Modification of nutrient regime
  • Modification of successional patterns
  • Monoculture formation
  • Reduced native biodiversity
Impact mechanisms
  • Causes allergic responses
  • Competition - smothering
  • Pest and disease transmission
  • Rapid growth
Likelihood of entry/control
  • Highly likely to be transported internationally deliberately

Uses

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C. nucifera has been called the ‘tree of life’ or ‘tree of heaven’ because of its value as provider of so many useful products. This species provides food, water, oil, medicine, fibre, timber, and fuel for many people living on islands in the Pacific Ocean (Chan and Elevitch, 2006). High quality coconut oil is used for cooking or in the manufacture of margarine, shortening, filled milk and ice cream. Coconut oil is also processed into soap, detergents, cosmetics, shampoos, paints, varnishes and pharmaceutical products. Remnant fatty acids and alcohols and their methyl esters find application as components of emulsifiers and surfactants.

The press cake or copra meal is a good livestock feed. Coconut milk or cream pressed from the mix of freshly grated endosperm has been a traditional ingredient in many African and especially Asian food and bakery products. It is now also marketed in pasteurized and homogenized canned or powdered form. Water in the cavity of young coconuts is consumed as a cool and sweet-tasting, popular refreshment. It is now also commercially preserved without altering its typical flavour. The tender, jelly-like endosperm of young coconuts is a delicacy consumed directly or grated and mixed with food. The palm heart, which consists of the white, tender tissues of the youngest, unopened leaves at the stem apex, is also considered a delicacy.

The shell (endocarp) covering the seed can be made into household utensils and decorated pots, converted into shell charcoal (suitable for activation) or used as fuel. Finely ground coconut shell is used as filler for resin glues and moulding powders.

Green husks (mesocarp) are used for making ropes, carpets, mats and textiles. Brown coir from husks of mature fruits is used in brushes (long bristle fibres), mattresses, upholstery and particle board (short fibres), and as a soil/potting mix amendment.  

A sweet sap containing about 15% sucrose is tapped from unopened inflorescences and is transformed into a light alcoholic wine when fermented. A by-product of palm wine is vinegar.  Boiling fresh sap yields palm syrup and sugar. Distillation of palm wine yields a potent alcoholic beverage called ‘arak’.  

The leaves are used to thatch roofs; the leaflets are plaited into mats, baskets, bags and hats; immature leaflets are made into traditional decorations and small bags or containers for food; the midribs of the leaflets are formed into brooms.

The wood of old palms is used for furniture, light constructions, household utensils and tool handles. The wood is very hard. It can be sawn with special tungsten carbide-tipped saw blades. It should be sawn when fresh. Preservative treatment of the sawn lumber is indispensable if it is to be used for building construction or any outdoor use.

Medicinal uses have also been attributed to coconut palm. The roots are considered antipyretic and diuretic. Milk of young coconut is diuretic, laxative and antidiarrheal. The oil is used to treat diseased skin and teeth.

Coconut palms have ornamental value and are often planted as ornamentals and windbreak plants in resorts, beaches, gardens and coastal parks. They are also planted as shade-trees in taro, cocoa and coffee plantations (Duke, 1983; Chan and Elevitch, 2006; Orwa et al., 2009; PROTA, 2014).

 

Uses List

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Animal feed, fodder, forage

  • Fodder/animal feed
  • Forage

Environmental

  • Agroforestry
  • Boundary, barrier or support
  • Erosion control or dune stabilization
  • Landscape improvement
  • Windbreak

Fuels

  • Charcoal
  • Fuelwood

General

  • Ornamental
  • Sociocultural value

Human food and beverage

  • Beverage base
  • Food additive
  • Fruits
  • Nuts
  • Oil/fat

Materials

  • Baskets
  • Carved material
  • Cosmetics
  • Essential oils
  • Fibre
  • Gum/resin
  • Miscellaneous materials
  • Oils
  • Wood/timber

Medicinal, pharmaceutical

  • Source of medicine/pharmaceutical
  • Traditional/folklore

Wood Products

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Boats

Charcoal

Containers

  • Boxes
  • Crates

Furniture

Roundwood

  • Building poles
  • Posts
  • Transmission poles

Sawn or hewn building timbers

  • Carpentry/joinery (exterior/interior)
  • Fences
  • Flooring
  • For light construction
  • Gates

Wood-based materials

  • Laminated veneer lumber
  • Laminated wood
  • Particleboard

Woodware

  • Industrial and domestic woodware
  • Tool handles
  • Wood carvings

Bibliography

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Dendy DAV, Grimwood BE, 1972. Coconut processing for the production of oil and coconut protein food and feed products. Vienna, Austria: UNIDO.

Foale-MA, 1992. Coconut genetic diversity: present knowledge and future research needs. International Crop Network Series No. 892:46-58.

Ghose S, 1993. A study of mature coconut market of Assam. Agricultural Marketing, 35(4):24-32.

Green AH, 1991. Coconut production: present status and priorities for research. World Bank Technical Paper No. 136, 150 pp.

Koshy PK, Sosamma VK, Sundararaju P, 1991. Radopholus similis, the burrowing nematode of coconut. Journal of Plantation Crops, 19(2):139-152.

Haas A, Wilson L, eds., 1985. Coconut wood: processing and use. Rome, Italy: FAO.

Harries HC, 1978. The evolution, dissemination and classification of Cocos nucifera L. The Botanical Review, 44(3):265-319.

Lever RJAW, 1969. Pests of the coconut palm. FAO Agricultural Series No 77. Rome, Italy: FAO.

Mapa RB, 1996. Coconut fibre: a biodegradable soil erosion control. Biological Agriculture and Horticulture, 13(2):149-160.

Mariau D, Genty P, 1992. Oil palm and coconut pest control by root absorption. Oleagineux Paris, 47(4):191-199.

Nair MK ed., 1993. Advances in coconut research and development. New York, USA: International Science Publishers, 760 pp.

Nair PKR, 1979. Intensive multiple cropping with coconuts in India: principles, programmes, prospects. Advances in Agronomy and Crop Science. Berlin and Hamburg, Germany: Verlag Paul Parey.

Nair MK, Khan HH, Gopalasundaram P, 1995. High production technology in coconut. Indian Coconut Journal Cochin, 25(9):3-19.

Ohler JG, 1984. Coconut, tree of life. FAO Plant Production and Protection Paper No 57. Rome, Italy: FAO.

Ollivier J, Daniel C, Braconnier S, 1994. Food crop intercropping with young coconut palms, examples in Vanuatu. Oleagineux Paris, 49(3):91-108.

Potty VH, 1991. Coconut processing - trends and possibilities. Indian Coconut Journal Cochin, 22(6-7):14-16.

Purseglove JW, 1972. Tropical Crops. Monocotyledons 2. London, UK: Longman.

Reynolds SG, 1995. Pasture-cattle-coconut systems.1995, RAPA Publication No. 1995-7: 664 pp.

Röbbelen G, Downey RK, Ashri A, 1989. Oil crops of the world. New York, USA/London, UK: Mc Graw Hill, 553 pp.

Satyabalan K, 1991. Coconut breeding for higher yields. Indian Coconut Journal Cochin, 22(6-7):33-41.

Schuiling M, Mpunami A , 1992. Lethal disease of coconut palm in Tanzania. 1. Comparison with other coconut diseases in East Africa. Oleagineux Paris, 47(8-9):511-515.

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Contributors

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22/04/14 Updated by:

Julissa Rojas-Sandoval, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA

Pedro Acevedo-Rodríguez, Department of Botany-Smithsonian NMNH, Washington DC, USA

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