The coconut trees, lithe and graceful, crowd the beach like a minuet of slender elderly virgins adopting flippant poses.

WILLIAM MANCHESTER (1922-2004)

Coconuts

SINGHALESE PROVERB

Eat coconuts while you have teeth.

You Say Kelapa...


Canadian botanist Charles Budd Robinson was working on the Indonesian island of Ambon in 1913. He was a popular figure, but had only a shaky grasp of the local language, so when one day he meant to ask some villagers who didn’t know him to get a boy to 'chop down a coconut' (porong kelapa) he inadvertently asked them to get a boy and 'chop off his head' (potong kepala). The villagers concluded that he was a headhunter, and killed him (or so the account given in correspondence lodged in the archives at Kew Gardens suggests).
 
Kelapa kepala are coconuts carved to look like heads, sold as mementoes in the region.

An Indonesian tongue-twister goes: Kelapa diparut, kepala digaruk, Kelapa diparut, kepala digaruk - 'coconut being grated, head being scratched, coconut being grated, head being scratched'. A Finnish one goes: Kokoa kokoon koko kokko. Koko kokkoko? Koko kokko - 'Collect all the wood for the bonfire. All the wood for the bonfire? Yes, all the wood.'

A Coconut's Constitution


Coconuts do not contain milk - the liquid inside is coconut water. Coconut milk is made by boiling the white coconut flesh with water and straining it. Boil this down further and you get coconut cream. Coconut is the only plant to produce such a 'seed liquid'. As the growing embryo feeds on it the inside of the nut becomes a sweet, spongy mass called the 'coconut apple'. The young plant’s shoot emerges from one of the three holes at the end.
 
Coconut water is an excellent hangover cure. It is completely sterile, full of vitamins and minerals and has the same balance of electrolytic salts as human blood (the technical term for this is 'isotonic'). It can even be used in place of a saline drip and is being commercially exploited as a sports drink, particularly in Brazil, where it is now a $75m industry. 
 
Coconuts aren't nuts. Real nuts have hard outer shells. The brown hairy thing we call a coconut is really the stone of the coconut fruit, or drupe, equivalent to a peach stone. The coconut is the largest of the drupes, and because its flesh is so hard, its known as a 'dry drupe'.
 

Monkeys can be trained to collect coconuts.

Coconuts can float around in the sea for three months, and still grow into a palm when they finally wash ashore.

Coconut Uses


In early Sanskrit texts coconut was referred to as kalpa vriksha - 'the tree that fulfils all needs', and in Indonesia they say that the coconut tree has as many uses as there are days in the year. It provides food, drink, timber, fuel, chemicals, yeast, and materials to make thatch, baskets, rope, brushes, brooms, mats and cloths. It can even save the lives of future presidents...

When John F. Kennedy was serving in the Second World War as a Motor Torpedo Boat commander, his boat was hit by a Japanese destroyer and his crew was stranded in the Solomon Islands. Having no paper, he carved a coconut shell with a message for two natives to deliver by dugout canoe to the base at Rendova, to call for rescue. He later used the coconut as a paperweight on his desk in the Oval Office. The message on it reads:

NAURO ISL . . . COMMANDER . . . NATIVE KNOWS POS'IT . . . HE CAN PILOT . . . 11 ALIVE NEED SMALL BOAT . . . KENNEDY

Coconuts can also be used as intravenous rehydration drips. Coconut water has fewer electrolytes and more potassium than would be ideal but it is sterile and was reportedly used by both the British and the Japanese in the Second World War.

According to the Journal of Endodontics, if you’ve had your tooth knocked out, immersing it in coconut water is a good way to keep the tooth viable until it can be re-inserted. It is even better than using normal milk.
 

DUSTIN HOFFMAN IN MIDNIGHT COWBOY

The two basic items necessary to sustain life are sunshine and coconut milk.

Posting Coconuts


If you visit Hawaii you can use a coconut like a postcard and send it to an unsuspecting friend. Some 3,000 coconuts pass through the US Postal Service every year; you just have to write the address and stick the stamp directly onto the coconut.

The practice may meet with resistance from the postal authorities these days (they’d rather you used a box) but it evidently works in practice; as of 2010 the post office in Hoolehua would actually sell you the coconut and help you to decorate it. Postage to mainland US is about $10.

In Tahiti one person is killed every other year by a falling coconut.

DaimlerChrysler make biodegradable seats for their trucks out of coconut husks.

Coconut root is liquefied to make mouthwash and a flour made from the shell is used to clean jet engines.

Coconut ferments quickly in the heat, and so can be made into wine or vinegar.