Cook Islands Biodiversity & Natural Heritage

Cocos nucifera

Nū / Tumu-Nū

Coconut Palm

Multimedia & Additional Resources

Type Description Download
Open this image in pop-up window Image: Palms, fruit, flowers and leave 70KB
Open this image in pop-up window Image: Seven palms from one nut (Rarotonga, Aitutaki) 78KB
Open this image in pop-up window Image: Rarotonga - corkscrewed trunk 57KB
Open this image in pop-up window Image: The face on a coconut shell 59KB
Read this article Article: Seven Palms from One Coconut? Open in new window
Gerald McCormack, December 2005
Read this article Article: The Origin of the Coconut Palm Open in new window
Gerald McCormack, September 2005

General Information

COMMON NAMES: Coconut Palm, Coco Palm, Coco Tree, Coconut Tree, Cocoa Nut [Old English], Cocoanut [Old English], Porcupine Wood; German Kokospalme, Kokosnuss; French Cocotier nucifère, Cocotier porte-noix

TRADITIONAL NAMES: Tumu-Nū / Pū-Nū (RR), Nū (MG AT MK), Pūnū (MT), Niu (AK TS TW PK NS), Nī (MH RK); Other Polynesian - Niu (SAM); COMMENT: Tumu / Pū mean "tree", and separate the Nū plant from the Nū fruit.

GLOBAL DISTRIBUTION: NATIVE Malay - Indonesia - Cook Islands - ?

COOK ISLANDS STATUS: Native, +Introduced - Polynesian and Recent; Land, lowlands - mountains (++++)

SIGNIFICANCE LIST: Medicine, Ornamental leaves, Food (Fruit 4+),Material (Fibre, Wood)

KEY FEATURES: Solitary palm to 30m and 100 years. TRUNK column-like, 30cmØ, cannot repair wounds. LEAVES 10-20 in a spiral crown, 12-14 per year, to 5x2m, two rows of leaflets/segments/pinnae forming one plane; LEAFLETS numerous, 1-ribbed, sword-like, to 80x8cm. FLOWERS branced cluster in leaf-joints; male flowers very numerous along branches, small, shed before females open; female flowers large, 3cmØ, at base of each branch. FRUIT large, to 2kg, ovoid; outer three layers - skin, husk and shell; seed with three layers - thin rind, oily white flesh, and water cavity.

Enlarged Image of 'Cocos nucifera'

Cook Islands Distribution

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Southern Group: Present    Makatea: Present

Northern Group: Present

Key to Symbols

Pests & Hosts

Relationship Pests
Herbivorous pest Erechthias sphenacma

Scientific Taxonomy

Cocos nucifera Linnaeus

More Information

SIGNIFICANCE NOTES -. Comment: NBSAP - Mauke (Nū Pokura & Kere, 4 of 9 domestic plants)
POSITIVE SIGNIFICANCE: Medicine, Ornamental leaves, Food (Fruit 4+),Material (Fibre, Wood). Comments: MATERIAL: Old wood from base hard, lasts well. Brown with black striping. Difficult to work due to tough fibres.

IDENTIFICATION: Long-lived, to c.100years, solitary palm to 30m. TRUNK column-like, unbranched, slightly curved, to 30cmØ, thicker at base. LEAVES in spiral terminal cluster of 10-20 leaves, each a frond to 5x2m, basal sheath a fibrous gauze; midrib with two rows of leaflets forming one plane; develop 12-14 leaves a year. LEAFLETS (=pinnae, segments), numerous, 1-ribbed, stiff, swordlike, to 80x8cm. FLOWERS simple-branched cluster, to 1m, at base of the leaves; female flowers singular at base of each branch, 3cmØ; male flowers, small, very numerous (200-300) along the branches, fall before female flowers open; cross-pollination by insects and wind; spathe (=bract) large, woody, narrow-oval, spits along underside. FRUIT large to 2kg, ovoid, to 35x25cm, skin (exocarp) ripening green, yellow or orange; husk (mesocarp) thick and fibrous, shell (endocarp) thin, hard, with 3 pores ('eyes') including one over the embryo; SEED large, embryo at base; endosperm (=flesh), 1-2cm, white, solid, oily, with central cavity of water. The ovary has 3 ovules assocaited with three pores in the shell, two abort and one develops.

GENERAL NOTE: The evidence that the Coconut Palm is native in the South Pacific to at least the Cook Islands is from Atiu and Mangaia. On Atiu coconut pollen is found in the pollen record at 8600BP (corrected date), which is several thousand years before the first Polynesian settlers arrived [Parkes 1997]. On Mangaia Coconut and Indian Mulberry are in the pollen record at 7300B.P. and the earliest dispurbance that might have been human-induced is at 2500BP [Ellison 1994]. On Moorea it is found at 1400BP when the settlement seems to have occurred around 1200BP [Parkes 1997]. The world's main source of vegetable fat, obtained from the dried flesh (endosperm). Husk provides fibre (coir).

Vouchers & References

Pukapuka: fieldspecimen, 2/2004, G.McCormack with ID as Cocos nucifera.

p.1362 Wagner et al.- Flowering Plants of Hawaii
p.119 Neal - In Gardens of Hawaii
p.291 Hortus 3rd
p.769 Tropica
p.1/437 A.C.Smith - Flora Vitiensis Nova
p.300 I Cheeseman - Flora of Rarotonga
p.24 ? Wilder - Flora of Rarotonga
p.383e Whistler - Ethnobotany of the Cook Islands

Data Update History (information):
zTX, zB02, zM02, zupB04b, zD02

Web Resources

Citation Information

McCormack, Gerald (2007) Cook Islands Biodiversity Database, Version 2007.2. Cook Islands Natural Heritage Trust, Rarotonga. Online at Copy citation to system clipboard
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