THE COCOA-NUT.


THE fruit of the cocoa-nut palm, (Cocos nucifera), which is the most useful tree of all its tribe to the natives of the regions in which it grows, is one of the most valuable and important of commercial products. On the Malabar and Corvomandel coasts of India the trees grow in vast numbers; and in Ceylon, which is peculiarly well situated for their cultivation, it is estimated that twenty millions of the trees flourish. The wealth of a native in Ceylon is estimated by his property in cocoa-nut trees, and Sir Emerson Tennent notes a law case in a district court in which the subject in dispute was a claim of the twenty-fifth twentieth part of an acre of palms. The tree is very beautiful and lofty, growing to a height of from sixty to one hundred feet, with a cylindrical stem which attains a thickness of two feet. It terminates in a crown of graceful leaves. The leaf sometimes attains a length of twenty feet, consists of a strong mid-rib, whence numerous long, acute leaflets spring, giving the whole, as one traveler described it, the appearance of a gigantic feather. The fruit consists of a thick external husk or rind of a fibrous structure, within which is the ordinary cocoa-nut of commerce. The nut has a very hard, woody shell, inclosing the kernel, within which again is a milky substance of a rather agreeable taste.

The cocoa-nut palm is so widely disseminated throughout tropical countries that it is impossible to distinguish its original habitat. It flourishes with equal vigor on the coast of the East Indies, throughout the tropical islands of the Pacific, and in the West Indies and tropical America. It is most at home, however, in the numerous small islands of the Pacific Ocean. Its wide dissemination is accounted for by the shape of the fruit, which, dropping into the sea from trees growing along the shores, would be carried by the tides and currents to be cast upon and to vegetate on distant coasts.
      The uses to which the various parts of the cocoa-nut tree are applied in the regions of their growth are almost endless. The nuts supply a considerable proportion of the food of the people, and the liquor enclosed within them forms a pleasant and refreshing drink. The liquid may also be boiled down to sugar. When distilled it yields a spirit which is known as “arrack.” The trunk yields a timber which is known in commerce as porcupine wood, and is used for building, furniture, and firewood; the leaves are plaited into fans and baskets, and for thatching roofs of houses; the shell of the nut is employed as a water vessel, and the outer husk or rind yields the fiber which is used for the manufacture of ropes, brushes, cordage and the like. Cocoa-nut-oil is an important article of commerce. It is obtained by pressing or boiling the kernels, which are first broken up into small pieces and dried in the sun. It is estimated that one thousand full-sized nuts will produce upwards of twenty-five gallons of oil. The oil is a white, solid substance at ordinary temperature, with a peculiar rather disagreeable odor. Under pressure it spreads into a liquid and a solid, the latter being extensively used in the manufacture of candles.

Within late years the oil has also been manufactured into cocoa-nut butter, retaining, however, in a greater or less degree a distinct flavor of the nut.

The monkeys and orang-outangs are very expert in destroying the tough outer covering of the cocoa-nut, though quite two inches thick. They insert their teeth into the tapering end of the nut, where the shell is very uneven, hold it firmly with the right foot, and with the left tear the covering to pieces. Then thrusting a finger into one of the natural apertures they pierce a hold, drink the milk, break the shell on some hard object and eat the kernel.

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