The cocoanut palm is one of the most peculiar economic trees of the earth. Floating in ocean water for months does not impair the vitality of the nut, and if it lands on a tropical or subtropical shore, it takes root in the sand and will bear nuts where the ocean waves wash over its roots. In the United States it is alone grown in southern Florida, and on its southern keys near the shore-line. In Cuba the statement of De Candolle, that it only grows on the seacoast does not seem to hold good, as I have seen the palms loaded with nuts on quite high land several miles in the interior. The tree grows on the beach sands, but it does not reach the size or load of nuts observed on higher and richer land. Maturin M. Ballou spent much time in Cuba looking up its resources in 1890. He says of the cocoanut as grown in the interior, on the west part of the island : "The cocoanut-tree grows to a height of fifty feet and more, differing from the royal palm by its drooping nature. At its summit is a waving tuft of dark-green glossy pinnate leaves from ten to fifteen feet in length, like mammoth plumes, immediately under which are suspended the nuts in heavy bunches, often weighing three hundred pounds. "But these apparently interior trees on richer soil have the breath of the warm Gulf stream from the varied directions except east, and are situated where they get permanent moisture at the roots. But the truth is correctly stated by De Candolle, who says: "Unfortunately this tree requires a warm, damp climate such as exists only in the tropics or in exceptionable localities just without them. Nor does it thrive at a distance from the sea." On thinner soil near the beach at Biscayne Bay, and at other points south of Lake Worth in Florida, the trees make less growth and lean from the course of the prevailing winds. At Lake Worth tourists often see nuts hanging within two feet of the ground, while in Cuba, on richer land, we have seen the nuts hanging down thirty feet from the ground.
In all ages the cocoa-nut has been propagated almost exclusively by planting the large nuts. To give anchorage to the trees, the nuts are planted two feet deep, and as the plant grows the earth or sand is filled in gradually, as in deep planting of the grape. But the nuts are usually sprouted before planting by burying in the earth deep enough to secure the needed moisture. The germination of the nuts is interesting to watch. The three prominent eyes of the nuts indicate the location of the ovules. With needed heat and moisture, the finger-like ovule imbedded in the rich creamy substance of the large end begins to extend growth. Soon it appears through the largest eye and begins the work of rending the outer coat of the fibrous covering. Little fibrous roots also extend into the flesh of the nut for support. As growth progresses the hard shell is parted and the roots extend into the earth. From the start, as the leaves grow upward, they begin to assume the typical form of the species. The roots are numerous, but never attain large size. In improving in the suburbs of Havana, the writer watched the digging out of large cocoanut palms in bearing. In no case was a root observed more than three fourths of an inch in diameter. Yet when loaded with the heavy clusters of nuts weighing three hundred pounds, and the great leaves expanded like sails, we were told that storms rarely blew down a tree of this species. The writer saw trees in exposed positions in Cuba, said to be seventy-five years old, still bearing large clusters of nuts.
As grown in different tropical coast climates the cocoa-nut differs in size, color, and texture and flavor of the flesh, and even trees grown from nuts of the same tree differ in size and quality of the nut.
It is probable that the systematic owners of plantations from the United States now settling in Cuba, Porto Rico, and the Philippines will soon learn to propagate from the best trees of the best varieties, as even now they are propagated from cuttings of the head of young trees, and even from those of old trees, where broken down by the tropical storms of south Florida and its keys.