This time of year, there’s much attention given to a particular kind of tree—the Christmas tree. In Hawaii, there’s another tree around which people have gathered much meaning—the coconut palm tree. Year-round, the lazy, swaying palm tree has come to represent romance and the ease of life attributed to life—vacation—in the tropics. But sometimes, in December, the palm tree gets dressed up in red and green and serves another role.
Here’s some fun facts about coconut palm trees that might surprise you.
1. The coconut palm tree is not native to Hawaii. However, it’s believed to have been introduced to Hawaii by the Marquesans during early Polynesian migrations.
2. The Hawaiian word for coconut is “niu.”
3. The scientific name, “Cocos,” comes from Portugal and translates to “monkey.” This refers to the coconut’s resemblance to a monkey’s face—because of the three holes at the end of the nut.
4. A mature tree can reach heights of 100 feet and live 100 years.
5. The coconut fruit—the nut—ripens in nine to 10 months.
6. The niu provided many uses for ancient Hawaiians. Its fronds were used for thatching roofs and plaiting hats; its trunks were used for drums; the fibers in the husks of the fruit/nut were used for cordage; the shells of the nuts for utensils; the water for drinking on long voyages; the meat to extract oil for lotion and cooking; and various parts for medicinal uses.
7. Technically, according to botanists, a palm tree is not really a tree. There are no rings, for example, when you cut it in half and palms do not increase their trunk size by growing new wood—bark. Characteristically, palm trees tend to be more like those plants, shrubs and vines in the grass family.
8. Not to be confused with the coconut palm, there is a smaller cousin known as the Christmas Palm—because its fruit turns bright red in December.
9. In emergencies, coconut water was reportedly used in place of blood transfusions during World War II.
10. In “Letters from Hawaii,” Mark Twain wrote about a coconut palm, “…it looks like a feather duster struck by lightning.”