The coconut is the most familiar palm of the tropics, yet until recently its origin was hotly disputed. Its seeds will still germinate after floating in seawater for 3-4 months. It probably originated in the islands of the western Pacific and eastern Indian oceans and was spread throughout the humid tropics by ocean currents and human activity.
Every part of the coconut palm is used for some purpose - timber from the trunk; thatch, basketry and brooms from the leaves; food and fibre from the fruit; and even toothbrushes from the roots. The fruit contains a delicious fluid and a thin layer of kernel rich in oil. This kernel is widely used in the cuisine of coconut-producing countries, either fresh or as coconut cream. The dried kernel (copra) provides oil for cooking, cosmetics and industrial purposes. Coir, the fibre from the fruit’s outer layers, is used in matting, ropes and car upholstery.
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You can see a coconut palm in the Palm House
Search Kew's electronic Plant Information Centre for scientific information about Cocos nucifera