This section is from the book "The Standard Cyclopedia Of Horticulture Vol2", by L. H. Bailey. See also: Western Garden Book: More than 8,000 Plants - The Right Plants for Your Climate - Tips from Western Garden Experts.
(Portuguese, monkey, from the nut, which suggests a monkey's face). Palmaceae. This genus includes the coconut tree, C. nucifera, and a few pinnate palms cultivated for ornament in the North under glass, and in southern Florida and southern California as avenue -and ornamental trees. See page 3567.
Low or tall palms, with slender or robust ringed spineless trunks, often clothed with the bases of the leaves: leaves terminal, pinnatisect; segments ensiform or lanceolate, equidistant or in groups, 1- to many-nerved, entire at the apex, or with 1 lateral tooth, or more or less deeply lobed, the margins smooth, recurved at the base; rachis 3-sided, acute above, convex on the back; petiole concave above, smooth or spiny on the margins; sheath short, open, fibrous: spadices erect, at length drooping, the branches erect or drooping; spathes 2, the lower one the shorter, split at the apex, the upper one fusiform or clavate, woody, furrowed on the back; bracts variable; flowers white or yellow: fruit large or medium, ovoid or ellipsoidal, terete or obtusely 3-angled, often fibrous-coated as in the coconut. - Species 56 in tropical and Subtrop. S. Amer., 1 in the tropics around the world. The genus is allied to Maximiliana and Attalea, and distinguished by its male flowers having lanceolate petals, 6 included stamens, and a 1-seeded fruit G.C. II. 23:439.
The coconut is the example most commonly cited of dispersal of seeds by water. Its buoyant, impervious husk is said to enable it to cross an ocean without losing its germinating power. Its structure is interesting and at first puzzling. Although it is a dry, indehis-cent, one-seeded fruit, it seems very unlike an achene, as for example, in the Compositse. Structurally, it is more like a drupe, for the fibrous husk is formed from the outer part of the pericarp, and the hard shell inclosing the meat from the inner. In other words the husk is exocarp and the shell endocarp. The milk of the coconut is unsolidified endosperm. In the cereal grains it is the endosperm which affords most of the material used for human food. Only a part of the liquid matter of the coconut solidifies, and the milk is left in the center. The eyes of the coconut (Fig. 1011) mark the positions of the micropyles, and germination takes place only through the larger one. Palm pistils are three-carpelled and each carpel in Cocos has one ovule. The marks of the three carpels are seen in Fig. 1011, but only one ovule develops into a seed. Fig. 1012 tells the story of the growth of a coconut. In a, the young nut is enveloped by three petals and three sepals. At b, the pericarp has far outgrown the sepals and petals.
Sometimes the floral envelopes remain when the nut is picked. Coconuts, like many other fruits, often grow to a considerable size without pollination, and then perish.
Of the species cultivated for ornament, C. Wed-delliana is by far the most important. It is sold in great quantities from 3- and 4-inch pots when the plants are 12 to 15 inches high. They are favorite house-plants, as their culture is easy, and they grow slowly and retain their beauty a long while. They are much used in fern-dishes. As a house-plant, C. Wed-delliana is probably the most popular species of all the smaller palms. It is especially suitable for table decoration. In distinguishing tropical from subtropical regions, the coconut is an excellent guide. It flourishes best where frost is never known, although there are magnificent specimens at Miami and Palm Beach, Florida, both places having rare but sharp frosts. The oil extracted from the nuts is an important article of commerce. The fiber refuse is much used by florists and gardeners. Being open, spongy, very retentive of moisture, clean and easily handled, it is a favorite material in which to root bedding-plants and to start very small seeds; but it is not used for permanent potting. See U. S. Dept. Agric, Bull, of Div. of Ent. (new series) 38:20-3, for a report of diseased coconuts.
For culture of Cocos under glass, see Palms.
The species of the C. australis group (as known in the trade) are dry-land palms, the best and most beautiful palms adapted to poor sandy soils in Florida. In moist and rich ground they are subject to diseases, particularly to blight. On dry land, they thrive with great vigor, and although slow growers, they are strikingly beautiful specimens when only a few years old. They look best in groups of five or even a dozen planted together (about 12 to 15 feet apart). After they have formed trunks 5 to 10 feet high they are very impressive, particularly when the background consists of tall bamboos or dark evergreens such as Magnolia grandiflora or live-oaks. All the species of this group have leaves more or less glaucous, silvery white or bluish green. The leaflets are often very hard to the touch-very rigid. The petiole at its base is provided with short blunt spines. The roots are brown and quite numerous, but the root-system is very shallow, the trunks do not rest deep in the ground as is the case with the Sabal and Phoenix species, and for this reason they are easily blown over or they acquire a leaning disposition. In planting these palms, they should be set in a saucer-like cavity, which can be filled up gradually.
Both young and old plants are easily transplanted in November and December, but it is always advisable to plant only young specimens. Few palms require so little care and fertilizer as these Cocos species. A good application of stable manure as a mulch when the rainy season begins helps them along wonderfully, or they many be fertilized with a combination consisting of equal parts of ammonia, phosphoric acid and potash. The flowers are always inclosed in a club-like spathe varying in size from a large walking-stick to a baseball club. These spathes burst open with a crack and reveal the much-branched flower-spike, varying in color from a creamy white, yellowish, lavender-crimson to a deep violet. The fruits also vary in size and color. Some of them are not larger than a large pea, others as large as a plum, some are yellowish and others orange and red in color. (H. Nehrling.)