Coconut Palm

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Planting and Spacing
Coconut palms may be planted at any time of the year, but the warm, rainy summer months are best for planting these palms. They can be successfully transplanted at any period in their growth, provided they are properly handled. Preplanting soil preparation depends upon soil type and depth of the water table. In low-lying areas, beds several feet high and wide should be constructed to prevent waterlogging of the root zone during wet periods. In some areas a hardpan in the soil profile may need to be broken up and mixed with topsoil prior to planting. For commercial plantings in the rocky calcareous soils of Miami-Dade County, rock plowing to a depth of 6–8 inches (15–20 cm) and trenching about 16–24 inches (41–60 cm) wide and 18–24 inches (45–60 cm) deep is recommended. For landscape planting, holes 2–3 ft in diameter and 1–2 ft deep should be prepared. Before digging in landscapes, contact your local utilities to avoid disrupting water, cable and/or electrical lines.

Container-grown palms should be planted such that the bottom of the stem and top of the root system are about 1 inch below the surface of the soil. Field-grown palms should be planted at the same level at which they were previously grown. The new tree should be watered immediately after planting and frequently thereafter until the tree is well established. Three to four inches, but no more, of mulch applied to the soil surface around the tree will help retain soil moisture and restrict weed growth. Commercially, the trees are planted at spacings of 18–30 feet (5.5–9.1 m) apart. In home gardens, coconut palms should be planted where they will receive full sun and not be crowded. At least 1 inch of water should be supplied weekly by rainfall or by irrigation, especially during the first year following transplanting.

Tree This large, single-trunked palm has a smooth, columnar trunk with a light grayish-brown color; the trunk is topped with a terminal crown of leaves. Tall varieties may attain a height of 80–100 feet (24–31 m), while dwarf varieties are shorter in stature. The trunk is slender and often swollen at the base. The trunk is typically curved or leaning, but is erect in some cultivars.

Flowers Male and female flowers are borne on the same inflorescence. The inflorescences emerge from canoe-shaped sheaths among the leaves and may be 2–3 feet (0.6–0.9 m) long and have 10–50 branchlets. Male flowers are small, light yellow, and are found at the ends of the branchlets. Female flowers are larger than male flowers, light yellow in color, and are found towards the base of the branchlets. Coconut palms begin to flower at about 4–6 years of age.

Fruit Roughly ovoid, up to 15 inches (38 cm) long and 12 inches (30 cm) wide, composed of a thick, fibrous husk surrounding a somewhat spherical nut with a hard, brittle, hairy shell. The nut is 6–8 inches (15–20 cm) in diameter and 10–12 inches (25–30 cm) long. Three sunken holes of softer tissue—called "eyes"—are at one end of the nut.

Inside the shell is a thin, white, fleshy layer, about one inch thick at maturity. This layer is known as the "meat" or copra. The interior of the nut is hollow, but partially filled with a watery liquid called "coconut milk". The meat is soft and jelly-like when immature, but it becomes firm at maturity. Coconut milk is abundant in unripe fruits, but the coconut milk is gradually absorbed as ripening proceeds. The fruits are green at first, turning brownish as they mature. Yellow-fruit varieties change from yellow to brown as they mature.

The coconut palm starts fruiting 6–10 years after the seed germinates and reaches full production at 15–20 years of age. The tree continues to fruit until it is about 80 years old, with an annual production of 50–200 fruits per tree, depending on cultivar and climate. The fruits require about a year to develop and are generally produced regularly throughout the year.