Lodoicea maldivica (PROTA)

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Lodoicea maldivica (J.F.Gmel.) Pers.


Protologue: Syn. Pl. 2: 630 (1807).
Family: Arecaceae (Palmae)
Chromosome number: 2n = 34, 36

Synonyms

  • Cocos maldivica J.F.Gmel. (1791),
  • Lodoicea callipyge Comm. ex J.St.-Hil. (1805),
  • Lodoicea sechellarum Labill. (1807).

Vernacular names

  • Double coconut palm, sea coconut palm, coconut of the Maldives (En).
  • Coco-fesses, coco de mer, cocotier de mer, cocotier des îles Seychelles, cocotier des Maldives (Fr).
  • Coco do mar, coco das Maldivas (Po).

Origin and geographic distribution

Lodoicea maldivica is endemic to the Seychelles, where natural populations exist on the islands of Praslin and Curieuse. It is cultivated in the Seychelles and elsewhere, for instance in coastal towns in East Africa and in India. Long before the palm was discovered on the Seychelles, the empty fruits and shells were already known on the costs of India and the Maldives, as they float in water and are transported by ocean currents. The palm itself did not spread overseas, as viable seeds are too heavy to float.

Uses

The young leaves are used for plaiting mats, hats and baskets, while the old leaves are used for thatching. Down from young leaves is used for stuffing. The wood is used for making palisades and water troughs. The terminal bud (palm heart) is eaten as a vegetable, also after being preserved in vinegar. The bilobed stones (endocarp with seeds) are collectors’ items because of their size and shape. The shells (endocarp) are used as water vessels, bowls and plates. The endosperm is eaten, e.g. in soups in China. It is credited to be aphrodisiac and an antidote for poisons. The palm is grown as an ornamental in many parts of the tropics.

Production and international trade

After the discovery of the palm on Praslin in 1768, the stones (often called seeds or nuts) were shipped in large quantities to eastern markets. Nowadays they are sold to tourists, which is locally an important source of revenue. In 1997 about 1600 stones were collected, in 1998 about 1500. They are sold at prices of € 190–450, depending on size and symmetry. Stones sold to tourists require an official export permit.

Properties

The fruit is very heavy, with a weight of c. 20 kg, and it contains the largest seed in the plant world, weighing up to 16 kg. The powdered fruit has shown hypoglycaemic and antihyperlipidemic effects in humans and rabbits.

Botany

Dioecious palm up to 30 m tall, unarmed; stem erect, up to 25 cm in diameter. Leaves up to 12 in crown; sheath splitting opposite the petiole; petiole robust, 3–6(–10) m long, deeply channeled above, rounded and black-dotted below, margin of basal part fibrous; blade 3–5 m × 2–3 m, costapalmately divided for 25–35% of its length into segments, base wedge-shaped; segments linear-lanceolate, single-fold, shortly bifid, stiff, upper surface shiny and smooth, lower surface dull, midvein prominent below. Inflorescence between the leaves, up to 2 m long, pendulous, enclosed in 2 bracts; male inflorescence with short peduncle terminating in 1–3 catkin-like rachillae with pits each containing 60–70 flowers; female inflorescence unbranched, rachilla a direct extension of and about as long as peduncle, zigzag, bearing sheathing bracts each subtending a flower, 5–13-flowered. Flowers unisexual; male flowers with fibrous bracteole, sepals 3, connate, corolla with long stalk-like base and 3 lobes, stamens 17–22; female flowers 5 cm wide, sessile, ovoid, bracteoles 2, sepals 3, petals 3, staminodes triangular, gynoecium 3-celled, stigmas 3. Fruit an ovoid drupe up to 50 cm long, olive green, 1(–3)-seeded; exocarp smooth; mesocarp fibrous (‘husk’); endocarp (‘shell’) comprising 1(–3) bilobed pyrenes (‘stones’). Seed c. 30 cm × 28 cm, 2-lobed.

Lodoicea maldivica is the only species in the genus Lodoicea.

Germination takes about 1 year. After germination, the cotyledonary stalk first buries to a depth of 30–60 cm and then extends horizontally for up to 10 m, resulting in the seedling becoming established some distance from the seed itself. In the juvenile phase, which may last 2–60 years, the palm is trunkless. During the juvenile phase about 20 leaves are produced from the buried stem apex. Subsequent leaves are produced from the developing trunk at intervals of 9 months, and live for about 9 years after expanding. Flowering starts when the trunk is about 4 m tall. Pollination is probably by insects. The fruit takes 4–7 years to mature. In natural stands mature female trees typically bear 2–9 fruits at any one time, while cultivated trees can bear as many as 60 fruits. Trees may live for about 350 years and reproduce for about 300 years, but male trees live longer than female ones.

Ecology

The island of Praslin, home of the largest natural population of Lodoicea maldivica, has an average annual rainfall of about 1600 mm, with the mean monthly rainfall exceeding 100 mm except in June, July and August. The mean monthly temperatures at sea level are 24–26°C.

Management

After harvesting the endosperm is removed from the stone and the empty shells are reassembled for sale.

Genetic resources

Lodoicea maldivica is classified as vulnerable in the IUCN Red list of threatened species, the major threats being overexploitation of the fruits and fire. The species is now protected and the trade in stones is legally controlled by the ‘Coco-de-mer Management Decree’ of 1995. Natural stands are preserved in reserves on the island Praslin. In 1997 the largest population, in the Vallée de Mai reserve, consisted of 1162 mature trees, of which 45% were female. Because most stones are removed for sale to cover management costs and illegal harvesting also occurs, regeneration levels are too low. Lodoicea maldivica in the Seychelles is listed in CITES Appendix III, which means that international trade in its stones is allowed only on presentation of the appropriate permits or certificates.

Prospects

Lodoicea maldivica is a popular species for its characteristics stones, but it only occurs in few locations and is threatened by overexploitation of the fruits, endangering regeneration. Appropriate harvesting protocols are necessary to ensure the future of the remaining natural populations.

Major references

  • Edwards, P., Kollmann, J. & Fleischmann, K., 2002. Life history evolution in Lodoicea maldivica (Arecaceae). Nordic Journal of Botany 22(2): 227–237.
  • Purseglove, J.W., 1972. Tropical crops. Monocotyledons. Volume 2. Longman, London, United Kingdom. 273 pp.
  • Rist, L., Kaiser-Bunbury, C.N., Fleischer-Dogley, F., Edwards, P., Bunbury, N. & Ghazoul, J., 2010. Sustainable harvesting of coco de mer, Lodoicea maldivica, in the Vallée de Mai, Seychelles. Forest Ecology and Management 260(12): 2224–2231.
  • Robertson, S.A., 1989. Flowering plants of Seychelles. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 327 pp.
  • Uhl, N.W. & Dransfield, J., 1987. Genera palmarum - a classification of palms based on the work of Harold E. Moore Jr. The L.H. Bailey Hortorium and the International Palm Society. Allen Press, Lawrence KS, United States. 610 pp.

Other references

  • Akhtar, M.S., Khan, S., Bashir, S. & Salman, M., 2009. Effect of Lodoicea sechellarum Labill (sea coconut) fruit on blood glucose and lipid profile in type 2 diabetic and normal human volunteers. Diabetologia Croatica 38(4): 87–93.
  • Dransfield, J., 1986. Palmae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Netherlands. 55 pp.
  • Fleischmann, K., Edwards, P.J., Ramseier, D. & Kollmann, J., 2005. Stand structure, species diversity and regeneration of an endemic palm forest on the Seychelles. African Journal of Ecology 43(4): 291–301.
  • Gerlach, J., 2003. Pollination in the coco-de-mer, Lodoicea maldivica. Palms 47(3): 135–138.
  • Hanelt, P. & Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (Editors), 2001. Mansfeld’s encyclopedia of agricultural and horticultural crops (except ornamentals). 1st English edition. Springer Verlag, Berlin, Germany. 3645 pp.
  • Henderson, A., 2002. Reply to Edwards, P., J. Kollmann & K. Fleischmann. 2003. Life history evolution in Lodoicea maldivica (Arecaceae). Nordic Journal of Botany 22(4): 418.
  • Huxley, A. (Editor), 1992. The new Royal Horticultural Society dictionary of gardening. Volume 3. MacMillan Press, London, United Kingdom. 790 pp.
  • Nature Protection Trust of Seychelles, 1998. Lodoicea maldivica. In: IUCN. Red list of threatened species. Version 2010.4. [Internet] http://www.iucnredlist.org. December 2010.
  • Rouillard, G. & Guého, J., 2000. Les plantes et leur histoire à l’Ile Maurice. MSM Printers, Port Louis, Mauritius. 752 pp.
  • Swabey, C., 1970. The endemic flora of the Seychelle islands and its conservation. Biological Conservation 2(3): 171–178.

Author(s)

  • M. Brink, PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Brink, M., 2011. Lodoicea maldivica (J.F.Gmel.) Pers. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Brink, M. & Achigan-Dako, E.G. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <http://www.prota4u.org/search.asp>.

Accessed 12 November 2020.