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Coconut

The coconut (Cocos nucifera) is an important member of the family Arecaceae (palm family). It is the only accepted species in the genus Cocos, and is a large palm, growing up to 30 m tall, with pinnate leaves 4�6 m long, and pinnae 60�90 cm long; old leaves break away cleanly, leaving the trunk smooth. The term coconut can refer to the entire coconut palm, the seed, or the fruit, which is not a botanical nut. The spelling cocoanut is an old-fashioned form of the word.

The coconut palm is grown throughout the tropics for decoration, as well as for its many culinary and non-culinary uses; virtually every part of the coconut palm can be utilized by humans in some manner. In cooler climates (but not less than USDA Zone 9), a similar palm, the queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana), is used in landscaping. Its fruits are very similar to the coconut, but much smaller. The queen palm was originally classified in the genus Cocos along with the coconut, but was later reclassified in Syagrus. A recently discovered palm, Beccariophoenix alfredii from Madagascar, is nearly identical to the coconut, and more so than the queen palm. It is cold-hardy, and produces a coconut lookalike in cooler areas.

The coconut has spread across much of the tropics, probably aided in many cases by seafaring people. Coconut fruit in the wild is light, buoyant and highly water resistant, and evolved to disperse significant distances via marine currents. Fruit collected from the sea as far north as Norway are viable. In the Hawaiian Islands, the coconut is regarded as a Polynesian introduction, first brought to the islands by early Polynesian voyagers from their homelands in Oceania. They are now almost ubiquitous between 26-degrees N and 26-degrees S except for the interiors of Africa and South America.

The flowers of the coconut palm are polygamomonoecious, with both male and female flowers in the same inflorescence. Flowering occurs continuously. Coconut palms are believed to be largely cross-pollinated, although some dwarf varieties are self-pollinating. The meat of the coconut is the edible endosperm, located on the inner surface of the shell. Inside the endosperm layer, coconuts contain an edible clear liquid that is sweet, salty, or both.

The Indian state of Kerala is known as the Land of coconuts. The name derives from "Kera" (the coconut tree) and "Alam" ( "place" or "earth"). Kerala has beaches fringed by coconut trees, a dense network of waterways, flanked by green palm groves and cultivated fields. Coconuts form a part of daily diet, the oil is used for cooking, coir is used for furnishing, decorating, etc.

Coconuts received the name from Portuguese explorers, the sailors of Vasco da Gama in India, who first brought them to Europe.  The brown and hairy surface of coconuts reminded them of a ghost or witch called Coco.  Before it was called nux indica, a name given by Marco Polo in 1280 while in Sumatra, taken from the Arabs who called it jawz hindi. Both names translate to "Indian nut." When coconuts arrived in England, they retained the coco name and nut was added.

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