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English name:

Family name:
Arecaceae (Palm family)
Scientific name:
Cocos nucifera
Introduced by:
Polynesian introduction
The West Pacific and Indian Ocean Islands, was brought here by early migrations or by water currents.

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The niu thrives best in sandy soil along the shores of the tropics. It is very common in Polynesia, Malaysia, India and northern Australia. Sri Lanka is said to have about 14% of the world's acreage of coconuts.


Stem: Niu has a tall, slender, gracefully leaning ringed trunk that can grow to 100 feet tall. The trunk is thickest at the base. There are some horticultural varieties that are short-trunked.
Leaves: The leaves are clustered at the top of the trunk, about 6-18 feet long, consist of many narrow leaflets that are about 1-3 feet long.
There are many small male flowers on long branches and several female flowers at the base of each branch.
When the female flowers are fertilized, they develop into a drupe (1-seeded fleshy fruit). In the case of niu, asmooth thick husk surrounds the hard, thin-shelled nut. Inside the fruit is a layer of thin solid endosperm or meat (oily, edible pulp) and a single embryo directly behind the soft pore of shell. The water proof husk and shell keep the embryo alive up till 4 months of floating in salt water.


Coconut is said to be the most useful tree in Asia as every part of the plant is of some economic use to humans. The fruit has been nicknamed "monkey's face" because of the two eyes and a mouth on the coconut shell. The sun-dried endosperm becomes "copra" that is the main source of oil for many industrial uses. The husk is used as a fiber called sennit or coir. The custard-like flesh of young nuts is good food for babies and can be substituted for cow's milk. When the meat matures it can be grated and produce coconut milk.

The hard wood of the tree trunk was used for fish spears, posts, furniture and construction. The terminal leaf buds and pith of trees are eaten raw. The flower stalk can be cut and its sap collected to yield sugar, wine, arrack (distilled from wine) and vinegar. The alcoholic beverage is about 8% alcohol content and is called "toddy" in India, 'tuba" in Philippines and "tuwak" in Indonesia. Niu is high in saturated fat (90%). There are many myths associated with niu (Samoan, Tahitian, Chinese, Indian and Hawaiian myths). It can also be used as medicinal for constipation, sorethroat, toothaches, etc.


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Last Modified: 14-Dec-2010 13:23 HST