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Today, would you believe, is World Coconut Day – one of those facts which is usually greeted by a response of “Say what?”. It does feel like a bit of an arbitrary thing to have its own special day, doesn’t it?

But when you start thinking about it, the coconut is one pretty impressive drupe. Yes, that is, botanically speaking, what a coconut is – an “indehiscent fruit in which an outer fleshy part (exocarp, or skin; and mesocarp, or flesh) surrounds a shell (the pit, stone, or pyrene) of hardened endocarp with a seed (kernel) inside”, also known as a drupe. The coconut we usually buy in the shops is not how it hangs on the tree – its just the hardened endocarp shell, with the greenish brown exocarp and fibrous mesocarp already removed.

The coconut – more than just a pretty face!
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The coconut, it turns out, is an amazingly useful drupe. So much so that the coconut tree has been called the ‘Tree of Life’:

  • the water inside the coconut is a refreshing drink, and is used extensively in cooking and a range of medicinal purposes
  • its white flesh can be eaten raw, or desiccated (dried) and grated, and used for culinary or medicinal purposes
  • it’s kernel can be processed to produce coconut oil
  • the coconut oil, water and flesh are also used extensively in soaps and cosmetics
  • the water inside the coconut is sterile until opened, and mixes easily with blood – as such it can be used as an emergency intravenous hydration fluid
  • its shell can be made into charcoal, or made into household items like bowls and other handicrafts
  • coconut shells are also used as the bodies of musical instruments, or banged together for percussion
  • it’s fibrous husk can be used to produce coir, which is used in rope, door mats, brushes, mattress stuffing etc
  • the nectar derived from incising the flower clusters of the coconut can be drunk as is, fermented to make palm wine, or boiled to create a sweet, syrupy candy
  • the husks and leaves of the coconut tree is used to make furnishings and decorations
  • fresh coconut husks can be used as a body sponge
  • the leaves are also used in cooking, to wrap rice, for example
  • coconut fronds are tied together to make brooms
  • the trunk of the coconut tree can be used in construction, or hollowed to make drums and small canoes
  • coconut roots are used in dyes and processed for medicinal purposes.

And so the list goes on…

Given the amazing value that can be gained from the coconut and the coconut tree, it is hardly surprising that it is treated with such immense respect in its main growing regions (including Indonesia, Philippines, India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam). It is commonly used in cultural and religious activities, and plays an essential role in Hindu weddings and other rituals.

Still wondering why the coconut got its own World Day? Neither am I!

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