The coconut, Cocos nucifera, as a cultivated plant has wide distribution in tropical and subtropical regions in both hemispheres. Probably native to subtropical Asia, it was brought to Latin America by the Portuguese and Spaniards, and now grows throughout the tropical world.
The trees, sturdy and wind resistant, have leaning trunks which may reach 80 or more feet in height. They are beautiful large palms which are unexcelled in importance among fruit-producing trees of the world. The millions of acres of planted coconuts yield food, drink and fiber. The oily meat of the nut, termed copra when dried, is important in world trade. It is the source of dried coconut, and of coconut oil used extensively in soaps and cooking. The fiber of the husks goes into cordage, brushes and coarse matting. The nut shells become house-hold utensils. The leaves are used in mats and thatching. Sugar, alcohol and vinegar are also obtained from the coconut.
Coconuts are grown to a limited extent in southern Florida, southern Calif and Hawaii. Several varieties are available from nurserymen. Propagation is by seed, in some cases planted in nurseries, more often where the tree is to grow. The unhusked nut (the seed) is placed on its side and only partially covered with soil. Germination takes place in 4-5 months if the soil is moist.
For nut production distance between trees is about 25 feet. Bearing starts when the tree is about 6 years old and the yield increasing gradually for 12-14 years.
If climatic conditions are right, a coconut palm will grow and bear well in many types of soil. Water supply limits both growth and yield. The Coconut cannot survive under water-logged conditions; on the other hand, the roots must be able to reach a constant supply of water. The original home of the Coconut was probably along the coast, and the general belief is that it does better near the sea. That this isn’t necessarily true is indicated by high-yielding plantations many miles inland. Although the Coconut will not thrive when the water available is as salty as the sea, it can stand much more salt than many other plants.
When one or more nutritional elements are deficient, the palm does not grow well. The chemical elements that may be in short supplying the soil are nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and iron, occasionally calcium and zinc.
The best way of making sure that insects and diseases cause little damage lies in providing optimum growing conditions. Coconut and similar palms are known to be infested with 35different scale insects and mealy bugs. Many of them are held in check by natural enemies but occasionally spraying with insecticide when crawlers are active is necessary. Consult local authorities for latest recommendations. Weak or injured trees are susceptible to attack by borers which can be cut out, probed with a wire or treated with a special borer paste. Avoid trunk injuries which attract borers. Bacterial bud rot, a disease of buds and other tender parts, requires drastic eradication, even to removing and burning the infected tree. Other rots may appear, but they are seldom common or serious.