For centuries kings and emperors had sought the source of a rare double-lobed nut that was occasionally washed up on the shores of India and the Malidives Islands. Believing it to be the fruit of an underwater tree, the Portuguese called it the coco de mar, while their claim that it had originally grown in the Maldives gave rise to the palm’s misleading scientific name of Lodoicea maldivica. While the curative and stimulative properties of the Coco de Mer prompted the wealthy to offer their fortunes for a single nut, it was the remarkable similarity of the nut to the human female abdomen and buttocks that most readily excited the popular imagination.
Doctors House Museum, Curieuse Island
Only two islands, Praslin and Curieuse have natural Coco de Mer forests; the forest on Praslin is enclosed within the Vallee de Mai – a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Organised with a bus time-table for Praslin Island we headed out for a morning to take a look at these curious palms – and to get out of the sun for a bit! For a mere SCR 5 (~25p in Sterling/ 40c US) you can travel the length of the entire route on Praslin, or just a couple of stops up the road. Travelling by bus was just about the only cheap thing we could do! We jumped off, just down from the entrance gate to the forest, on the southern slope of the somewhat hilly terrain.
The Coco de Mer is the only palm that has both male and female trees. Naturally, should no male tree be within pollinating distance of a female tree – that female tree will never produce nuts, just the flower bract.
It has a really long life span, which I suppose it would have to have if you consider that it takes 6 to 7 years for a nut to ripen! Germination is also long – the first leaf takes a whole year before it sprouts and it is 15 years before there is even a trunk to speak of! A Coco de Mer palm comes into maturity between 20-40 years and has a life-span of between 200 and 400 years.
The Coco de Mer boasts the largest male flower of all the palms and also the heaviest nut of any tree – sometimes weighing in at 20Kg.
The leaves are also immense – I think some were easily 12-13 feet long! They certainly provided some welcome shade as we strolled around the forest.
Luckily, no nuts were hanging over the trail itself. I can only think the damage one of those nuts falling on your head would do. If falling coconuts can kill you – this would probably bury you 6 foot under – in the same motion.
One thing about “Island Time” – it strangely doesn’t apply to bus drivers! The service is excellent and runs on time – to the second. It can be a little bumpy at times, and hair-raising at others, as you hurtle around the bends on what appears to be no more than a single lane. We noticed that the lady bus drivers were far less hectic than their male colleagues – yet no less on time. Hmmm…
We were quite chuffed with ourselves whilst we were waiting for the bus trip home: Taxi drivers are wont to hover around the gates waiting for potential passengers and like to try their luck in snaring you by informing you that the “last bus has just passed – the next one is not for another hour”. We, with our handy time-table were able to deduce that the one that just passed was not the one we wanted – ours was still due in 15 mins… Nice try, Taxi-man – we’re on Island Time.