Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Flip Flop - the Coconut Palm

Originally published on Audubon Guides on September 17th, 2012

One of the quickest ways to make an enemy of a native Floridian is to suggest that the Coconut Palm (Cocos nucifera) is not native to Florida. The fastest way is to drive slowly in the fast lane. The iconic palm is found throughout the tropics and grows along Florida’s coast from the middle of the state south through the Keys. As a native Floridian I dare say that of the 85 species of palms found in Florida, the Coconut might not be one of the 10 native species. As more communities require Florida native plantings in their landscaping, the debate over the status of the Coconut Palm has been more heated. Certainly many of these palms have been planted on our shores, but the husked fruit can bob along in the ocean for long periods of time, so it’s not inconceivable that seeds have washed ashore and began growing here on their own. 
A Red-shouldered Hawk on a palm © Pete Corradino
The Coconut Palm is easily the most recognizable palm with its long fronds and bowling-ball sized fruit growing off of a single trunk. It’s valued for the sweet “water” found inside as well as the edible white “meat” on the inside that can be eaten raw or cooked in a variety. It is also used in soaps, shampoos and to make coconut oil. Most importantly the palm provides an aptitude test for young boys who attempt to procure the enticing seeds in a several ways. I've watched a less-than-gifted boy stand at the base of a palm and throw rocks up at a cluster of 10-15 coconuts, inadvertently providing a live demonstration of gravity.
Coconut Palm © Pete Corradino
The tree bears fruit after about five years and continues to grow 50-200 fruit for about eighty years. Clearly, as some boys age they learn the art of coconut retrieval. In Everglades City there is a group of men who drive around in an unmarked white van, locate Coconut Palms, shimmy up the trunk, knock the fruit down and collect them on the ground. Geniuses! These men are doing a public service. One of the fastest ways to determine who the tourists are is to see who parks under a Coconut Palm. Hopefully the White Van Men have already been by.
Coconut © Pete Corradino
I’ve changed my mind. As a native Floridian I’m going to flip flop and claim the Coconut Palm as one of our own. 

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