|Coconut palm (Cocos nucifera)|
|Native range of Cocos nucifera prior to its cultivation.|
The coconut tree (Cocos nucifera) is a member of the palm tree family (Arecaceae) and the only living species of the genus Cocos. The term "coconut" (or the archaic "cocoanut") can refer to the whole coconut palm, the seed, or the fruit, which botanically is a drupe, not a nut. The name comes from the old Portuguese and Spanish word coco, meaning 'head' or 'skull' after the three indentations on the coconut shell that resemble facial features. They are ubiquitous in coastal tropical regions, and are a cultural icon of the tropics.
It is one of the most useful trees in the world, and is often referred to as the "tree of life". It provides food, fuel, cosmetics, folk medicine and building materials, among many other uses. The inner flesh of the mature seed, as well as the coconut milk extracted from it, forms a regular part of the diets of many people in the tropics and subtropics. Coconuts are distinct from other fruits because their endosperm contains a large quantity of clear liquid, called coconut water or coconut juice. Mature, ripe coconuts can be used as edible seeds, or processed for oil and plant milk from the flesh, charcoal from the hard shell, and coir from the fibrous husk. Dried coconut flesh is called copra, and the oil and milk derived from it are commonly used in cooking – frying in particular – as well as in soaps and cosmetics. The hard shells, fibrous husks and long pinnate leaves can be used as material to make a variety of products for furnishing and decoration.
The coconut has cultural and religious significance in certain societies, particularly in India, where it is used in Hindu rituals. It forms the basis of wedding and worship rituals in Hinduism, a coconut religion in Vietnam, and features in the origin myths of several societies. The falling nature of their mature fruit has led to preoccupation with death by coconut.
Coconuts have been used by humans for thousands of years, and may have spread to their present range because of Pacific island settlers. The evolutionary origin of the coconut is under dispute, with theories stating that it may have evolved in Asia, South America, or on islands in the Pacific. Trees grow up to 30 m (98 ft) tall and can yield up to 75 fruits per year, though less than 30 is more typical. Plants are intolerant of cold weather and prefer copious precipitation, as well as full sunlight. Many insect pests and diseases affect the species, and are a nuisance for commercial production. About 74% of the world's supply of coconuts derives from Indonesia, the Philippines, and India combined.