Coco de Mer
Common name: Coco-de-mer
Latin name: Lodoicea maldivica
Size: This palm has the longest leaves and the largest and heaviest seeds of any plant in the world. The plant may grow up to 34 metres in height, with leaves up to 10m in length and 4m in width. The male and female flowers are borne on separate trees and the male catkins can reach 1 metre in length, making them the longest in the world. The seeds can weigh as much as 30 kg.
Population: Only two natural populations of this species remain. The long-term overexploitation of the unusual seeds has virtually wiped out natural regeneration.
Lifespan: Coco-de-mer palms take between 25 – 50 years to reach maturity and bear fruit. Fruit may take up to 2 years to germinate.
Range: Natural stands of the Coco-de-mer are only found on the islands of Praslin and Curieuse in the Seychelles. It is extinct on St Pierre, Chauve-Souris and Round Islands. Planted subpopulations occur on Mahé and Silhouette Islands. Individuals are also being cultivated in various botanic gardens around the world.
Threats: The seeds of the coco-de-mer are highly prized and the collection of seeds has virtually stopped all natural regeneration. Remaining populations are also threatened by fire and encroachment by invasive plants.
Producing the largest seeds in the plant kingdom (weighing up to 30kg), this giant of the plant world was known to sailors in the Indian Ocean long before its real home was discovered. Over the ages, seeds of this legendary palm were found washed up on deserted beaches or floating on the waves and they become known as the 'coconuts of the sea' appearing to come from some mythical oceanic plant. Their suggestive two-lobed form gave rise to many legends – including a belief that they possessed aphrodisiac powers. However, the plant now faces several threats: from over-collection, alien invasive species, and an increasing frequency of fires, which is being exacerbated by climate change.
The true home of this mysterious plant is the Seychelles, where only two populations remain in the wild. Much prized, coco-de-mer seeds have commanded high prices for centuries. Trade in the seeds is now closely controlled, but poaching remains a problem because of their high value on the tourist market. Although protected within National Parks, the two remaining populations are nevertheless threatened by fire and encroachment by invasive plants.
Coco-de-mer plants can be seen in various botanic gardens around the world and botanic gardens are key players in efforts to conserve the world’s invaluable plant diversity. You can support the plant conservation activities of your local botanic garden in various ways. For some ideas, visit www.bgci.org/worldwide/get_involved
Coco de mer. © Peter Wyse Jackson