Agricultural Extension Service
University of Florida
The Coconut Palm
By M. U. Mounts
Palm Beach County Agent
The coconut palm (Cocos nucifera), more
than any other plant, gives subtropical Florida
its beauty and charm. This beautiful palm is
especially attractive when planted in clumps of
3 to 5 plants. No other palm has the graceful
symmetry of curving trunk and the gently wav-
ing fronds of tall, well-grown coconuts. Tl'h e
palms have been planted most often in South
Florida on city properties in parkways and in
parks. Near homes and other buildings they are
d.linLgri-, in hurricane winds because of falling
leaves and nuts and as a result there has been
a decrease in the number planted around small
Lindley and .T1m.I-. in the "Ti'r.-;-kiy of Bot-
aIii." (1889), state it is impossible to ascertain
its native country and, in the same sentence,
declare the coconut beyond doubt is iilli.',.riiiii..
to some part of Asia, probably Southern India.
All authorities state the coconut is well adapted
to move by sea. Because of its triangular-like
shape it jflat- well and it can be in water over
long periods of time and still germinate. Bailey
also states its transportation is the deliberate
work of man. Man has moved it from island to
island and from continent to continent.
South Florida citizens claim a romantic in-
troduction of this most beautiful palm to our
subtropical shores. It is definitely known that
the Spanish barque, Providentia, bound from
Havana to Barcelona, loaded with 20,000 coco-
nuts and an undetermined number of hides, ran
aground near where the Bath and Tennis Club
of Palm Beach is now located. The population
of Palm Beach C."iunt; at that time was cer-
tainly small but they must have been industrious
for 14 ll 'i of these coconut palms were soon
planted in the area. It is rI ,nii *..l the most
extensive Il.i].,lli.- were made in the area of
the present town of Palm Beach, but early tales
state some were carried as far north as Stuart
and south to Boca Raton. Several legends con-
c(-rniiiL' the wreck can still be heard, but evi-
dently the crew had been liberally sampling the
Cuban rum in their cargo.
When the writer came to Palm Beach CI.I.ntv
in I''_ a number of Providentia palms survived
in several locations. A few of the palms in FLI -
ler Park *.1f downtown West Palm Beach are
believed to be Providentia palms and were
moved into the park as memorials to young men
of this county who were ft'.lliti of World
Certainly the wreck '., the Providentia was
one of the most fortuitous circumstances in the
d. I.l. i.m n it of the area. It was a ni ior factor
in causing the new interest of our earliest de-
velopers and has continued to help attract visi-
tors and new citizens to the area. Almost
invariably visitors want to get a coconut because
no souvenir of South Florida is as popular. It is
generally the first thing asked for.
Because of the coconut's well-earned attrac-
tion to citizens and visitors, many establish-
ments sell the fruit as such. Others use the nuts,
the hulls, the blossom stems and the blossom
sheath. The inii.rn.itin of man has developed
a host of souvenirs shaped and trimmed to catch
the eye of the tourist. The sale of the nuts and
these curios are the principal uses of the palm
in South Florida; there also are a few candies
and drinks manufactured for local sales.
During the depression Vy.cars of the thirties
several ladies in suburban areas hulled the nuts
and dried the fruits for local sales. The product
was attractive in :l'l-p [;r'.inl and of good quality
Another interesting use for the fruit de-
veloped after a hurricane in the late twenties.
li",,,-.InI. of coconuts were on the ground, and
an i, Ii i i i:-; ii deliveryman of Palm Beach who
had a small 1ilL' farm west of the Palm Beaches
hauled an undetermined number of truckloads
.l" the nuts for i', .,lIl;- the swine. One cut with
an axe was sufficient; the swine 1~1. the rest.
The coconuts produced excellent white hog
1' :,i coconuts in rows in semi-shaded, moist
but well-drained -...I 1. Place the nuts on
their sides and bury '!I. .. only about one-half
,f their thickness, the upper portion being I ,I'
exposed, i be :. ,i 1 in
the rows leaving only : I* 1 .. between so
that they do not touch. Fl, i'.- in rows permits
S..,;'; ii.. to keep down weeds, to conserve soil
moisture and to give the seedlings more light.
Germination usually requires from 1 to 5 months
but the majority should L. ,' 1I. in 4 months
or less. i' young >:1; . be tr ... :' 1i .i
when the I1.,' reaches a height of about a foot,
even though a few or no roots are in 1 I:.
'[I plant draws nourishment for a considerable
period 1'.!', food stored within the nut.
The general cause for failures in moving
large coconut palms is carelessness in Ilr.i; I;.n
tall trees to the ground for transportation. If
the palm is allowed to i ii only a short distance
it may crack the bud at or near the I ..- it,
point, and this will kill the ii
The hole -r.'.i:,f''. W for the palm's new loca-
tion should be *hI. sufficiently large to readily
receive the "ball" of the plant, and the palm
should be planted at about the .,i level 1-. the
previous location. A.ll;,! some 'l.i',,I matter
for incorporation into this soil will help in hold-
ing moisture and f' 1;li h ,'. The plant should be
watered when needed after 1 .:,I'"- and it,
it is well established.
( .. because ." their *.' to
cold injury, are best in Florida ..
Stuart south on the east coast and from Punta
Gorda south on the wes. coast. .' state
the coconut does best in areas i r. tempera-
tures e 72 i renheit or higher and where
changes are not 1 . Coconuts
do not require salt to i butl "C tolerate
concentration salt on the ': ; and in the
thia, severely inure or k n m lny other
ts. and I oor in dry loca-
tions, but l he coconuts are l ered i -
.' -e is the '
which det rmi is the areas where they may be
It has been gender considered that the
ccoonut is a low maintenance plant. This is a
serious mistake and one that i '" result
in and iss palms. nutss need
iatering and i' n. ile i
a 1-1-1 ratio are amount
tree change with every I area
but a bearing tree should receive 5 .. of
an or ' f ;- twice
when it is growing in* -I
Coconuts and other 't are .n observed
to be 'eeted nutritional
Sug in areas close to shore and on
S lands that have a high T .
plants may treatment.
Pruning -. ,I consists of the removal of
leaves and :' i. parts as they turn brown and
become unsightly. From time to time, however,
;,. L temperatures may injure coconuts in
i... ..... ... The severity of injury will vary
depending upon a number of factors including
age of the .: ,1 and temperature experienced.
Because ** unsightliness, these injured or dead
leaves should be : the 1 i' as soon
as convenient, except the inner 2 or 3 leaves. All
the leaves may have frozen and to all appear-
ances the palms may be dead-in some instances
even the dead center leaves may be pulled out.
Many of the injured palms will start gr''.v.th in
the spring, others will not. In no case should
palms so injured be removed as dead until at
least August or possibly later. If this ..aitiin
period is not ol,-elrl..,. many valuable specimens
will be lost because earlier in the season it may
be impossible to determine whether or not the
palm is dead.
As the trees have grown in liiglit. falling
fruits and leaves become d.il.''-ri.', to persons
and automobiles under the palms; as a result
nearly every year in late summer there are com-
munity prunings, generally a little too vigorous
in the number of leaves removed. This drastic
lpruiniijg causes a decrease in diameter of the
trunks near the growing area and this lowers
the resistance to hurricane damage.
The disease that has caused the most con-
cern is coconut bud rot (Pit..l1!il, palmi-
vora). During wet seasons or after hurricanes
this disease is especially troublesome. MA.- lani-
cal damage makes conditions favorable for the
fliiii'ln to enter the bud. In the l''" 's a severe
outbreak occurred in Palm Beach, palms were
felled and burned, and this reduced the disease
to a great extent.
There are occasional appearances of Rhizoc-
tonia and Fusarium but these diseases are not
of economic importance.
Lethal yellows is a disease found only on
Stock Island and Key West at this time. Flower
clusters turn black followed by dr.,.l'iini of
l'II Ini. and progressive yellowing and withering
of leaves. This disease progresses from older
leaves to newer ones. Remove and burn affected
A number of pests, 'iln, liirie caterpillars,
mealybugs, spider mites, the palm weevil, and
several kinds of scales, may be found from time
to time on coconut palms; but usually do not
require control measures. Occasionally, how-
ever, certain pests have become numerous e-
nough to cause extensive damage to palms. The
most destructive of recent years has been the
coconut scale, Aspidiotus destructor. This small,
ir-l.nif. , lool-.ingi scale, which under a mag-
nif.. inv :1.1--. resembles a fried egg, 11.1. develop
in l.,'-, numbers on the underside of the leaves.
ThI -.. scales are usually kept under adequate
control by their natural enemies, which include
twice-stabbed 1.'. 1. I1.l and tiny wasp-like
parasites. Home gardeners sometimes mistaken-
ly attribute i.,f li.,lm ... to the ladybeetles.
If scales and mealybugs become numerous
*l-i... '. to require insecticidal control, dimetho-
ate (Cygon) is recommended at the rate given
on the container label. 1I\ ni,,.I can also be
Coconut palms, that have been weakened 1,.
diseases, mechanical injury, cold, etc., may be
attacked by the r.iriil weevil, a species of
Rhinchophorus, which is a large snout weevil.
The immatures ('. Ll -- grubs) are reported to
feed in the buds, trunks and roots of weakened
palms. Care should be taken not to injure I.':ilim
during, as well as after, I,,, ir, and to keep
them in a healthy 'r..i. in, condition.
Caterpillars, the larval (immature) stage of
moths and butterflies, occasionally cause concern
to growers of coconut palms. Birds have been
important in the control of these pests; however,
if they should require additional control meas-
ures, a mixture of malathion and Sevin is -ii-
Spider mites, which are so small that they
are not easily seen without a magnifying glass,
infest palms, but are not a threat to the life
of the plant. If they become numerous ii- '-,l
to cause noticeable .im.1,l to the leaves, Kel-
thane, Tedion or Aramite can be i-..i i... n
to the recommendations on the container label.
Treat all pesticides as poisons and handle
i.....li lno the cautions on the manufacturer's
product labels. Always read the label carefully
and completely ', 'r I'- using the pesticide. Store
I!, iii in their toi:.ili.l labeled containers :nid
out of reach of children and pets. Di-i'... of
empty containers promptly and safely.
The use of trade names in this .,,1.1;. ,ii.., ;; solely for
the purpose of i .. T :.I specific ri i.. ...I.... It is not
a guarantee or warranty of the products named and does
not signify that they are approved to the exclusion of
others of suitable composition.
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION WORK IN
AGRICULTURE AND HOME ECONOMICS
(Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914)
Agricultural Extension Service, University of Florida,
Florida State University and
United States Department of Agriculture, Coop, rating
M. O. Watkins, Director