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.
The local uses of the coconut are almost unlimited. Besides being of practical utility in a very large number of ways to the people of the Malay-Polynesian region, it has, as a result of its practical importance, acquired a prominent place in the rites and superstitions of the people of this part of the world. Thus Murray tells of a tribe of Papuans, among whom it is not proper for a man to eat a person whom he has killed, this privilege being reserved for his associates; but a man may eat the heart of his own victim if he sits on one coconut and balances himself with his feet on two others while he prepares and devours it.
The products of great industrial importance are toddy and its derivatives, coir, and copra and its products.
Toddy is an usual English name of the fresh beverage obtained from the unopen flower-clusters. In the Philippines it is known as "tuba." The mode of securing it differs somewhat in the three countries in which it is secured on an industrial scale, the Philippines, Java and Ceylon. In all of them, the spathe is bent down gradually and the tip is then cut off. A thin slice is afterward cut off with a sharp knife, usually twice a day. After a few days of this treatment, the irritation results in a flow of sap from the cut surface. This sap falls into a jar or bamboo tube from which it is collected, as a rule twice a day, and a very thin slice is removed from the end at each time of collection.
This continues until the whole inflorescence has been removed by the series of slices. The amount of toddy collected depends on the vigor of the tree, on the weather, and on the skill of the workman. Under fairly favorable conditions, a good workman will secure a quart or more a day from one inflorescence. The technique of this business seems to be better developed in the Philippines than elsewhere, with the result that more toddy is secured in a given time from the tree. The toddy is used as a fresh beverage or as a source of alcohol, or less frequently of sugar, or still more rarely of vinegar; it is also a common source of yeast in the East Indies. The toddy, as it falls from the cut branch, contains about 16 per cent of sucrose. This inverts very rapidly if permitted to do so, and the invert sugar is in turn rapidly fermented to alcohol. In parts of the Philippines, the production of strong liquor in this way is a business of some importance. If sugar is to be produced, care is taken to keep the vessels clean and approximately sterile, and the inversion is often prevented by the use of tanbark from one of the mangroves, usually Bruguiera. If alcohol is the product desired, the same bamboo tubes are used over and over without cleaning.
In the Philippines it is common practice to connect the trees used for this purpose with bridges of bamboo on which the collectors pass rapidly from tree to tree. In other countries each tree is climbed by itself.
(Nat. size at this stage.)
1012. Stages in the growth of a coconut
Coir is produced for local use in many parts of the world, but as an article of commerce comes chiefly from Ceylon. This fiber was the old staple cordage material of the Polynesian region. As a fiber material, it is conspicuous for its elasticity, being able to stretch 20 or 25 per cent without exceeding the limit of elasticity. It is also remarkable for lightness, for resistance to decay, and for the short length of the individual cells. It is accordingly a valuable fiber for use in ropes subject to abrupt strains, for calking boats, and for a stuffing fiber. Its stiffness and durability make it especially serviceable for the manufacture of mats, and this is its chief commercial use.
A well-known product is desiccated coconut. Among producing countries, Ceylon is the only one which has taken up the manufacture of this article. It is prepared directly from the fresh meat of ripe nuts. Very large numbers of coconuts are also put upon the market of temperate countries as "coconuts," usually after the removal of the husk. The United States is the chief market for these nuts and the export of them is accordingly a conspicuous feature of the business in lands situated where delivery in the United States is economically possible, that is in the West Indies and to a much less extent in the islands of the Pacific. An exportation of this kind is also assuming large proportions with Australia as a market. For all kinds of coconut produce, Ceylon long held first place and the business of producing coconuts, copra and oil, as well as coir, and desiccated coconut, has reached a better development in Ceylon than anywhere else. However, during the last few years, the Philippines have far outstripped Ceylon in the production of copra. The export from the Philippines in the year ending June 30, 1912, was more than 160,000 tons.
In this year, copra was for the first time the foremost export of the islands, taking from abaca the place which it has held almost without interruption for the last fifty years. e. B. Copeland.