Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Coco de mer: The Forbidden Fruit

In the islands of Praslin and Curieuse, in the Seychelles, grows one of the most exclusive palm trees in the world. The coco de mer (Lodoicea maldivica) has tall slender trunks that rise more than 30 meters above the ground. At its crown is a mass of fronds, with leaf blades fanning out nearly five meters across. On mature individuals, the leaves are often fringed at the edges. Their withered ends hang from the palm below the vibrant, healthy green crown.

Possibly the most renowned feature of coco de mer are its enormous seeds—the largest and heaviest seeds in the plant world. But it is the shape and not the size of the seeds, that makes coco de mer famous; the seeds bear an uncanny resemblance to a woman’s butt. Indeed, one of coco de mer’s archaic botanical name was Lodoicea callipyge, where callipyge in Greek means “beautiful buttocks”.
The coco de mer has been the stuff of mystery and legend, perhaps more than any other tree in the world. Centuries ago, before Seychelles were discovered and settled, the nuts from coco de mer used to wash up on distant shores, such as the Maldives, where the tree was unknown. There it was gathered from the beaches and traded with other countries. Because of its unusual shape and size, the nut was viewed as a fascinating object with powerful aphrodisiac qualities. And because it came from the Maldives, the nut was called Maldive coconut. This is still reflected in its current scientific name, Lodoicea maldivica.

When the fruit of a coco de mer falls into the sea, it cannot float because of its immense weight and density. Instead it sinks to the bottom. After spending a considerable period of time on the sea bed, the husk weakens and drops off. The internal parts of the nut decay, and the gases that form inside the nut makes it buoyant causing the bare nut to rise up to the surface. Many sailors had seen the nut rising up from the sea bed, and thought they grew on underwater trees, in a forest at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. This belief gave the tree its name, “coco de mer”, which is French for "coconut of the sea".

In those days, the coco de mer nuts held great value and all nuts found on the ocean or on the beaches became the immediate property of the King, who sold them at very high price or became precious regal gifts. Middle Eastern princes and even the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II, offered a fortune for these rare treasures.










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