Coco De Mer: The Seed of Legend!

Coco de mer palm nut
Photograph taken by Laura McCoy with permission of Warwickshire Museum

Warwickshire Museum holds a seed from the coco de mer palm tree and it is definitely worth a look as it is possibly one of the original specimens making up the natural history collection of the Warwick and Leamington Phrenological Society, collected during the early 19th century.

Largest seed in the world

This huge seed comes from the Lodoicea maldivica palm tree, of the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean and is the largest seed in the world. Much mystery shrouds both the seeds and the plants, stemming from the former’s womanly appearance and gigantic size and from the latter’s unusual fertilisation methods and isolated existence.

Theories and legends

The seeds of the coco de mer would wash up along the shores of Indonesia and many theories and legends accumulated, concerning both the purpose and the meaning of these unusual objects. It was originally believed that the seeds were borne from underwater trees, as the palms that they come from can be found only in the Seychelles, far removed from their final resting places. Sailors historically reported seeing the seeds ‘falling upwards’ from the depths of the ocean, adding further fuel to this legend.

Passionate embrace

The Lodoicea maldivica palm tree has separate male and female plants. The female plant bears the feminine-shaped coco de mer seed and the male plant, a catkin. Local folklore tells that, on a stormy night, the two plants share a passionate embrace to fertilise the female’s seed and that any unfortunate soul happening upon this exchange will surely go blind or die! Other, less imaginative and unexciting individuals will tell you that the female seeds are likely fertilised by animals such as lizards or possibly bees transferring pollen from the male tree.

Which version is true is ultimately down to your discretion. But whichever one you chose to believe, it cannot be denied that these amazing palms have a truly fascinating history. It is no wonder that they attracted the attention of 19th century naturalists, here in Warwickshire.

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