Yes, You Can Grow a Coconut Tree

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Coconut tree, Photo: Kelly Dean

Yes, You Can Grow a Coconut Tree

By Kelly Dean

In the finely manicured laws, the coconut tree is not as common as they used to be among those reFLocating to Florida. It’s iconic with living in Florida. It is. But because it requires more care than others, folks opt for more newly-introduced palms that require less effort. I’ve written about those varieties here as well.

Its lineage is quite complex, as can be understood from this article in Scientific American. It has two distinct lines, but both derive from the Pacific. Its name is from early European explorers and taken from the “facial expression” the three black indentations make.

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Coconut tress, Photo: Kelly Dean

They shed leaves cleanly, like most palms, but they also produce the ubiquitous nuts (drupes) we all know and love, which drop to the ground and must eventually be carried away. If leaves don’t shed cleanly, usually after rough storms, they can get haggard-looking at the top near the coconuts. You might have to get on a ladder once in a while to tend to them.

Growing a coconut from the drupe

Some folks harvest the nuts manually on a ladder when mature for a very simple reason:  If you have a boat, vehicle or even a small pet, one can’t help but be concerned about what the three-pound nuts might do when they fall.

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Coconut sprouting, Photo: Kelly Dean

If you happen upon a coconut, it’s quite easy to get it to grow into a tree. Simply place the coconut semi-buried in a large pot in half sandy and half-humus soil, husk and all, and keep it watered and in the sun, like the attached picture. Voila: a coconut tree sprouts. Once it develops decent roots, you can plant it.

Cracking a coconut

Cracking a coconut can be a bit difficult, but sooner or later, everyone does it. With whatever tools you have available, you must remove the fibrous husk on the outer layer. Then, you have to crack the woody “nut” to get to the flesh and the milk inside. My tools consisted of some pliers, a machete, a long firm knife, a wood chisel, and a two-pound hammer. If you can place the nut into a vice and score it with the wood chisel around the circumference, it will break more cleanly without spilling the milk. Alternatively, the hole in a concrete block holds them pretty firmly while you crack as well.

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Photo: Kelly Dean

Coconut palms are very common at established Florida beaches, near bays and canals because they were easily accessible years-back and reflected a laid-back lifestyle, especially the “old Florida lifestyle.” They are salt-hardy and have a “bendy” appearance that gives them that relaxed look.

Repurposing the coconuts

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Photo: Kelly Dean

One can use old coconuts in place of mulch. Yes, I have seen this and it looks great. Instead of using cheesy gravel or mulch, they literally pile the coconuts around the base of the tress and other landscaping and it looks great, once there’s enough to fill the area. It’s the island look. When they get old, they just repurpose those and replace them with next year’s batch. It’s a casual look and it’s a more-natural solution to simply dumping them into the trash. I’ve also seen them lined-up and used as landscape border instead of bricks, posts or rocks.

Other Repurposing Solutions

I know a woman who paints the coconuts and sells them as lanai, deck and patio decorations, creating a “cool-change” tropical art. You can eat the meat and make desserts and drinks out of the milk. You can string a hammock between them if you have two sturdy trees that are near enough to each other.

Ancient people had hundreds of uses for the simple coconut.

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Bent coconut palm, Photo: Kelly Dean

If your coconut tree is bent, creating that iconic “bent palm tree look,” you have a treat. Nothing looks more tropical and camera-worthy than a bent coconut tree. Before you string a hammock under it or a rope swing for the kids, make sure a landscaper says the roots are strong enough. For a tree that’s a hurricane survivalist, they don’t have deep, oak-like root systems. But this is the same for most palms.

Obviously, I’m a big fan of this tree so go get creative and make it a part of your reFLocating experience.

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