Coconuts (Cocos nucifera) are the seeds of the coconut palm tree. It is difficult to pin down the birthplace of the tree (most believe it to be the South Pacific or Malay Archipelago), as coconut seeds are extremely hardy and can float in salt water over long distances to germinate once they wash ashore. In the wild, ripe coconuts fall from trees and grow where they land. As a result, there are wild palm trees throughout the tropics and in many areas with warm climates, but cold temperatures will inhibit fruit bearing.

References: Purdue University, University of Florida/IFAS Extension, University of Hawaii, USDA.

SEASONAL AVAILABILITY

Coconut Seasonal Availability Chart

 

TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS

Coconut palm trees are planted commercially in tropical lowlands. The most commonly grown ‘nut’ in the world is not really a nut but a drupe, with oval seeds composed of an outer skin, a fibrous husk that is green or yellow initially and then brown at maturity, and the hard shell most people see in the grocery store. The shell houses the copra or the white, fleshy meat and coconut water (coconut milk is produced by crushing the meat). The more mature the coconut, the more meat and water absorption, leaving less liquid.

Trees are classified as dwarf or tall and the latter can reach heights of over 90 feet. Average height is from 50 to 60 feet for tall varieties while dwarf trees mimic their name and rarely reach heights of over 25 feet. Coconut palms, which contain the seed or nut surrounded by a husk, can grow up to 18 inches in length and 12 inches in diameter. The nut itself can reach 6 to 8 inches in diameter with three sunken soft tissue spots called “eyes” at one end.

The copra and coconut water are edible and used throughout the world in foods and drinks. Coconut oil can be harvested from the copra and is used to produce soap, shampoo, cosmetics, cooking oil, and margarine. The fibrous husk material can be used as a soil substitute for growing fruit, vegetables, or ornamental plants, and is often used in greenhouse operations.

References: Purdue University, University of Florida/IFAS Extension, University of Hawaii, USDA.

PESTS & DISEASE

Fungicides are not approved for postharvest use on coconuts in the United States. Immature, trimmed coconuts can be treated with the preservative metabisulfite to prevent browning. A stronger metabisulfite solution can extend storage time 2 to 7 days. Wet coconuts will cause mold growth particularly in immature, trimmed coconuts.

Coconut palms are susceptible to lethal yellowing disease, bud rot caused by phytophthora palmivorafungus, thielaviopsis trunk rot, stem bleeding, and chalara paradoxa fungus. Most of these can be prevented through well-drained soil and avoidance of damage to tree trunks, particularly during transplantation. Lethal yellowing can be treated with antibiotic injections either on a preventative basis when the disease is found or as a repeated treatment after infection.

Pests of concern include the coconut mealybug, rhinoceros beetle, American palm cixiid, red palm weevils and mites, spider mites, palm aphids, and caterpillars.

References: University of Florida/IFAS Extension, State of Hawaii (Hawaii.gov), University of Hawaii.

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