The palm tree family, a group of flowering plants, consists of approximately 200 subdivisions and around 2,600 different subspecies. The coconut tree (cocos nucifera) is one type of palm tree, probably one of the most well known.
Most palm trees grow in tropical and subtropical conditions and warm temperatures. This gives them a huge range, from deserts to rainforests. Coconut trees are also widespread and commonly found throughout Asia and America. The coconut palm tree has been cultivated in India for around 4,000 years.
Most experts believe that the coconut tree originated in southern Asia, while some claim it is from South America. Ancient fossils have been found in New Zealand, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Thenpennai, with the oldest recorded in Khulna, Bangladesh. A likely candidate for the earliest documented coconut plantation is in the Culawamsa, which refers to the coconut garden belonging to King Aggabodhi (575-608).
The palm tree is a distinctive land plant with woody stems and leaves that pleat when blooming and later split apart. The coconut tree shares these characteristics, but also bears the coconut fruit. Other types of palm trees bear fruit, such as the date palm (phoenix dactylifera) and the queen palm (syagrus romanzoffiana), whose fruit is a similar, smaller version of the coconut. In Madagascar another palm was recently identified--the beccariophoenix alfredii. It is almost identical to the coconut palm but can survive in cooler temperatures.
Most varieties of palm tree, including the coconut palm, prefer sandy soil, a large amount of sunlight and regular rainfall. In addition, coconuts palms require warm conditions and high humidity to thrive, and are tolerant of salinity but do not like cold weather. If their environment is not warm enough, they may be able to grow but will be unlikely to produce fruit. Frost can be fatal to the coconut palm.
The main difference between the standard palm tree and the coconut palm tree is that the latter produces the coconut fruit. This is a drupe rather than a nut. This means it consists of an outer skin (the exocarp), a succulent middle layer (the mesocarp) and a hard, woody inner shell usually enclosing just one seed (the endocarp). The endocarp is the hardest part of the coconut fruit. Both the white flesh and the milk of the coconut are tasty and nutritious.