Nature

Published March 2, 2013

The tree of life

Despite winter here in Karachi, we are very fortunate to still enjoy warm sunshine. On a sunny day, swaying gently in the breeze, stand the towering palm trees. As one looks up at these tall trees, bunches of coconuts can be seen delicately veiled by the long, feathery palm leaves. The coconut is the fruit of the coconut palm tree. The husk is composed o

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f fibres called coir and there is an inner stone. This endocarp (inner stone) is the hardest part and it has three germination pores — or three ‘eyes’ as commonly called — clearly visible on the outside surface once the husk is removed. The inner white and fleshy edible part of the coconut is rich in minerals such as iron, phosphorus and zinc. Coconut milk is made by grating the white ‘meat’ and mixing it with warm water, popularly used in Asian and African cooking. Coconut water, on the other hand, is the refreshingly sweet drink, taken from unripe coconuts. In fact, you will have seen the coconut vendors selling those green coconuts filled with the delicious and invigorating drink — a refreshing drink on a hot day. Yummy! Did you know that a new tree actually takes eight years to finally produce a coconut? But when matured, the palm produces an average of 50 nuts a year. While you take a bite of the delectable, chunky, white, part of the coconut, remember too, its other uses. Apart from the culinary importance, coconuts are of use in a variety of ways. For example, the coir is used to make ropes, mats, brushes and stuffing fibre; the husk and shells can be used for fuel and, amazingly, shirt buttons can be carved out of dried coconut shell. Now we get to the question… is the coconut a fruit, nut or seed? Well, defined loosely, it can be all three of these terms. But, botanically speaking, it is a fibrous one-seeded drupe! You may well ask, what is a drupe? A drupe is a fruit with a hard stony covering enclosing the seed (like a peach or olive) and comes from the word drupa meaning overripe olive. All drupes have three layers: the exocarp (outer layer), the mesocarp (fleshy middle layer), and the endocarp (hard, woody layer that surrounds the seed). To put in a nutshell, coconuts are called the ‘tree of life’ and can produce drink, fibre, food, fuel, utensils, musical instruments and much more. Fascinating!

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