By Keri Murrell
Lodoicea maldivica, commonly known as Coco de Mer, is a palm tree located only on the islands of Praslin and Curieuse in the Seychelles. Its seed is the largest and heaviest in the world, reaching half a metre in diameter and weighs up to 25 kg. The seed is famed for its rude appearance, as it resembles a women’s bottom and stomach.
The tree itself is dioecious, meaning there are separate male and female plants. The male has a long catkin, growing up to 1.5 m long. These can produce pollen for over 10 years. Females produce seeds between 6 to 7 years. How they cross-pollinate is still a mystery. Historically, there were stories about the male uprooting itself and walking to the female to mate. Currently, lizards are hypothesised to pollinate the female, although this is not confirmed.
Coco-de-Mer seem to be the only plant to care for their seedlings after they’ve dropped and germinated. The parents’ large pleated leaves funnel rainwater down to the seed, picking up nutrients such as pollen, bird faeces and dead flowers from its surface. Subsequently, the soil surrounding the tree was rich in nitrogen and phosphorous. Therefore, the seed has evolved to germinate in shade created by the parents to access available nutrients, developing larger leaves to absorb the sun, thus outcompeting other plants.
Due to the high value of the nut, Coco-de-Mer is an endangered species. It is used both in traditional medicine and commercial products such as perfumes. The nuts worth increased in 2011 when the government of Seychelles presented it as a wedding gift to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. Reaching a value of £400 for a polished specimen. Despite it becoming illegal to poach in 1995, the continued exploitation remains an issue. It takes Coco-de-Mer 15 to 40 years to reach sexual maturity, and up to a century to reach full size. Removing their seeds has vastly declined natural reproduction, putting their mature population at only 8 282.