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The Original Home and Mode of Dispersal of the Coconut


THE origin and mode of dispersal of the coconut, which is now widespread throughout the tropics of the Old and New Worlds, has long been a subject of discussion. Be Candolle, Beccari, Chiovenda, and others consider the coconut originated in the Indian Archipelago or in the Pacific Islands, while 0. F. 2 attempts to prove that its origin was in the valleys of the Andes of Colombia in South America and that it was transported thence, entirely by human agency, far and wide across the tropic seas. H. B. 3 also holds the opinion that the home of the genus Cocos is in America, while Geoffrey states, on information given him by Mr. Hedley of Sydney, that the coconut was introduced to the Pacific Islands from Mexico by Polynesian mariners. Cook asserts that it is highly improbable that sea-borne coconuts could ever be cast up on a shore in such a favourable position that they could germinate without the aid of man, and considers that the coconut groves fringing most tropical coasts have only exceptionally originated without human aid. The fact remains, however, that coconuts are the common strand palms on almost every tropical island and that they were found well-established when many of these uninhabited islands were discovered.

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  1. Beccari, O. Ann. Jard. Bot. Buitenzorg, supp. 3, pt. 2, 1910, pp. 799–806, and Malesia, I., p. 86. chiovenda, Emilio, Webbia, vol. 5, Pt. 2, PP. 359–449 (1923).

  2. Cook, O. F. Contrib. from U.S. Natl. Herb., 2, p. 257 (1901), and also "History of the Cocoa-nut Palm in America", Contrib. from U.S. Natl. Herb., 14, Pt. 2, Pp. 271–342 (1910).

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  3. Guppy, H. B. "Observations of a Naturalist in the Pacific", vol. 2, 1906, pp. 67, 413.

  4. Smith, Geoffrey . "Cambridge Natural History", Crustacea, pp. 173–175.

  5. Schimper . "Plant Geography", Eng. ed., I., p. 231.

  6. See Sampson, H. C. "The Coconut Palm", 1923, p. 74 et seq.

  7. "The Simples and Drugs of India", Garcia Da Orta (1563), translated by Sir Clements Markham, p. 139; also "Roterio", Vasco da Gama (1498) and the book of Barbosa (1516). Garcia da Orta generally spells the name coquo: "We, the Portuguese," he writes, "with reference to those three holes, gave it the name of Coco (Spanish macoco, for monkey-faced), because it seems like the face of an ape or other animal." With regard to other names, he says the palm is called Maro and the fruit Narel, and this word Narel is common to all, for it is used by Persians and Arabs (narikela Sanskrit, in Persian nargila, a name given to the hubble-bubble, or Indian smoking stand-pipe, from the shell of a coconut being generally used to contain the water through which the smoke from the tobacco bowl is sucked through a long, flexible serpentine pipe; and nari-kela simply means water spring or squirt). "Avicenna calls it Jauzialindi, which means nut of India (Jauzulhindi, the Indian nut). Serapio and Rasis call the tree Jaralnare, which means the tree that yields Coco (Jaralnari, the Naril tree). The Malabar people call the tree Tengamaram (the Southern Tree, i.e. introduced from Ceylon), and the fruit when it is ripe Tenga. The Malays call the tree Tricam (Trinarajah, King of Grasses, is a Sanskrit name for the coconut palm), and the coconut Nihor." It is also of interest (l.c. p. 141) to note that the word coir comes from the Malabar Kayiru, the fibrous rind of the coconut (see also Watt, "Dictionary of the Economic Products of India").

  8. Smith, Geoffrey . "Cambridge Natural History", Crustacea, 4 (1909), pp. 173–175.

  9. "Eastern Pacific Lands". Appendix B, p. 234.

  10. See Yule, "Cathay and the Way Thither", i., p. clxxvi. (1866), and Cosmas, "Indico pleustes", book xi. "The Christian Topography of Cosmas", trans. and ed. by J. W. M'Grindle, p. 362 (1897). In Yules "Hobson-Jobson", the etymology of the word coco is fully discussed; see also Bayley-Balfour, Ann. Bot., vol. i., p. 184, and Garcia da Orta, l.c. p. 139.

  11. Merrill, E. D. "Enumeration of Philippine Plants", Bureau of Science, Manila, vol. 4, pp. 70–71 (1926), also "Notes on the Flora of Manila with special reference to the introduced element", Philippine Jour. Science, vol. 7, pp. 168–192, 197, etc. (1912). Dr. Merrill informs me he has now altered the views expressed in his footnote on p. 192, and does not agree with Cook as to the American origin of the coconut.

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  12. Berry, E. W. American Jour. Science, 12, No. 69 (September 1926). Specimens of these nuts were kindly sent to Kew in March 1927, by the curator of the Auckland Museum and are now exhibited in Museum No. 2.

  13. Cook, O. F. l.c., Plate 53. p. 288; 1910.

  14. See "Treasury of Botany" and Kew Guide to Museum 2 and specimens in the Museum.

  15. See Wood-Jones . "Coral and Atolls", p. 5, P. 17; 1912.

  16. Guppy, H. B. "The Dispersal of Plants as illustrated by the Flora of the Keeling or Cocos islands, Victoria Institute" (1890), pp. 2–5.

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  17. Van Keulen's "Atlas", vol. 6, Amsterdam, p. 19; 1753.

  18. Darwin, Charles . "Voyage of the Beagle", chap. xx.

  19. Darwin, in the "Voyage of the Beagle", quotes Holman's "Travels", vol. 4, p. 378, where an account is given, on the authority of Mr. Keating, of seeds, etc., from Sumatra and Java, washed up on the Cocos-Keeling Islands. Among them were "the cocoa-nut of Balci, known by its shape and size".

  20. Guppy, H. B. "Observations of a Naturalist in the Pacific", vol. 2, p. 436.

  21. "The Voyage of François Leguat", vol. 1, p. 65 et seq., Hakluyt Society.

  22. Docters van Leeuwen, Dr. W. Ann. Jard. Bot. Buitenzorg, 31, p. 114, Plate xxi.

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HILL, A. The Original Home and Mode of Dispersal of the Coconut. Nature 124, 133–134 (1929).

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