As soon as we landed in the Seychelles, we saw displays of one of their national symbols: the unique Seychellois coconut: the "Cocofesse" or "Coco de Mer".
For centuries these unique coconuts washed ashore on the beaches of India, Maldives and Sri Lanka. The suggestive shape of the world's largest plant seed - about 40-50 cm diameter, weighing up to 20 kg - made it famous, and they were sold the world over as a symbol of fertility. They were often expensively decorated with gems, gold and silver becoming the prized possession of kings and rulers.
Originally, this coconut was thought to be the fruit of enormous trees that grew underwater in the great whirlpool of the oceans, and were therefor called "Sea Coconuts" - "Coco de mer". It was not until 1768 when the first actual Cocofesse plants were discovered on the Seychelles: A surveyor aboard the French vessel "Marion Dufresne" found the trees on the island of Praslin, and brought them back with him to Mauritius.
The Cocofesse has a male and a female plant. They are the largest palm tree in the world: the male goes up to 30m, and the female to 24m high.
The male catkin -once again an erotic symbol- can be as thick as a person's arm and grow 50 cm long.
The seed itself grows for 6-7 years in a husk, after which it falls on the ground where it lays dormant for about six months.
It takes one year after germination before the first leaf appears from the seed. The young Coco de Mer palms can reach 14 meters and are nothing but massive leaves, as it takes about 15 years before the first signs of a trunk appears. It takes 20 to 40 years before the plant is mature. A tree can grow for 200 to 400 years.
The haven of the Coco de Mer palms is the Vallee de Mai on Praslin, a nature reserve and one of the smallest UNESCO World Heritage sites.
As the male palm is much taller than the female, it often seems like it protects its 'mate'. Locals legends say that when the moon is full, the male moves over to the female and they make love. No-one has ever reported this first hand, as the story goes, if you witness it you are instantly turned into a black parrot.
More posts on the Road about the Seychelles.
First two pictures courtesy brlsi.org and wikipedia