Coco-de-mer (Lodoicea maldivica)

French: Coco de mer
KingdomPlantae
PhylumTracheophyta
ClassLiliopsida
OrderArecales
FamilyPalmae
GenusLodoicea (1)
SizeHeight: up to 34 m (2)
Leaf length: up to 10 m (2)

The coco-de-mer is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The awesome coco-de-mer (Lodoicea maldivica) is a giant of the plant world; this palm has some of the longest leaves and the largest and heaviest seeds of any plant in the world (2). The tall slender trunk may tower up to 34 metres in height, bearing at its crown a mass of palm fronds (2). In mature individuals the leaf blades may be 4.5 metres wide and are fringed at the edges; withered leaves hang from the palm below the vibrant, healthy green crown (2). Unlike other Seychelles palms, the male and female flowers of the coco-de-mer are borne on separate trees (2); the male catkins can reach up to a metre in length, making them the longest in the world (3). Possibly the most renowned feature of this palm tree, however, are its enormous seeds; over the ages mariners have seen these seeds washed up on deserted beaches or riding the waves and they have become known as the ‘coconuts of the sea’ appearing to come from some mysterious oceanic plant (3). The seeds usually have two lobes and can weigh up to an enormous 30 kg (2).

Endemic to the Seychelles, natural stands of the coco-de-mer are only found on the islands of Praslin and Curieuse (4), although individuals have been introduced to other islands and there is a population on Silhouette Island (5).

Inhabits rainforests where there are deep, well-drained soils (2) and open exposed slopes; although growth is reduced on such eroded soils (5).

Coco-de-mer palms take 25 years to reach maturity and start bearing fruit, and the fruits themselves reach maturity after a further 7 years (2). Once fallen to the forest floor, the fruit wall disintegrates over 6 months and germination takes another 2 years (2). Coco-de-mer flowers are visited by a variety of different animals such as bees, slugs and geckos (3) with pollination carried out by small insects such as flies (6).

The seeds of the coco-de-mer have been highly prized over the centuries; their rarity caused great interest and high prices in royal courts, and the tough outer seed coat has been used to make bowls and other instruments (2). The history of exploitation continues today, and the collection of nuts has virtually stopped all natural regeneration of populations (4) with the exception of the introduced population on Silhouette. This palm has been lost from the wild from three Seychelles islands within its former range (4). Habitat loss is one of the major threats to the survival of remaining populations, there have been numerous fires on the islands of Praslin and Curieuse, and only immature trees remain over large parts of these islands (4).

The Seychelles is a World Heritage Site, and a third of the area is now protected (3). The main populations of coco-de-mer palms are found within the Praslin and Curieuse National Parks (4), and the trade in nuts is controlled by the Coco-de-mer (Management) Decree of 1995 (4). Firebreaks also exist at key sites in an effort to prevent devastating fires from sweeping through populations (4). Cultivated palms are grown on a number of other islands and are widely present in botanic gardens; although the collection of seeds in order to recruit these populations may be a further threat to the remaining natural stands (4). Conservation priorities are the continued protection of populations, enforcement of regulations and effective fire control (4). It is hoped that these measures will be sufficient to secure the future of this magnificent palm tree.

To learn more about conservation in the Seychelles visit:

Authenticated (6/5/03) by Justin Gerlach. Scientific Co-ordinator, The Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles.
http://islandbiodiversity.com

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Wise, R. (1998) A Fragile Eden. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.
  3. SEYCHELLES: JEWEL OF A LOST CONTINENT (Natural World)(BBC tx. 10 December 2000).
  4. Gerlach, J. (1997) Seychelles Red Data Book. The Nature Protection Trust of the Seychelles, Seychelles.
  5. Gerlach, J. (2002) Pers. comm.
  6. Gerlach, J. (2003) Pollination in the coco-de-mer, Lodoicea maldivica. Palms, 47: 135 - 8.