Coconut (Cocos nucifera)
The versatile Coconut palm tree (or cocoanut as it used to be spelled) has a single, narrow, tall trunk with a cluster of very large leaves at the top. Each leaf may be over 6 meters (20 feet) long with over 100 pairs of leaflets. Old leaves break away from trunk leaving the trunk smooth. The coconut fruit (technically it is not a nut) can weigh up to 3.2 lbs. and has a hard shell covering the fleshy, edible part of the coconut (the meat in green young coconuts is softer and gelatinous). The shell turns brown when the coconut has ripened (and will eventually fall from the tree on its own accord). Baby coconuts resemble the mature fruit but are roughly the size of marbles. The coconut has a fibrous root system.
Where to Find: Coconut palms are found throughout the tropics and prefer sandy soils, abundant sunlight, and regular rainfall. They are most abundant near coastal regions. Coconut palms are intolerant of cold weather and prefer mean temperatures of around 81 degrees F.
Edible Parts: The nut is a valuable source of food. The milk of the young coconut is rich in sugar and vitamins and is an excellent source of liquid. The white, fleshy nut meat is also nutritious but is rich in saturated oil (there is much debate whether the saturated oil from coconuts is healthier than other saturated oils). To preserve the meat, spread it in the sun until it is completely dry.
Other Uses: Use coconut oil to cook and to protect metal objects from corrosion. Also, use the oil to treat saltwater sores, sunburn, and dry skin. Use the oil in improvised torches. The tree trunk, preferred for their straightness, strength, and salt water resistance, can be used as building material and the leaves as thatch. Hollow out the large stump for use as a food container. The coconut husks are good flotation devices and the husk’s fibers are used to weave ropes and other items. The husk and shells can also be used for charcoal. Use the gauzelike fibers at the leaf bases as strainers or use them to weave a bug net or to make a pad to use on wounds. The husk makes a good abrasive. Dried husk fiber is an excellent tinder. A smoldering husk helps to repel mosquitoes. Smoke caused by dripping coconut oil in a fire also repels mosquitoes.
The roots can be used as a dye, mouthwash, or as medicine for diarrhea. A frayed piece of root can also be used as a toothbrush.
To render coconut oil, put the coconut meat in the sun, heat it over a slow fire, or boil it in a pot of water. Coconuts washed out to sea are a good source of fresh liquid for the sea survivor.