Coco de Mer: Producer of the World's Largest Seed

History and Legends of the World's Largest Seed

Coco de mer large seed

J.W.Alker / Getty Images

The world's largest seed comes from the coco de mer (Lodoicea maldivica). Other common names used are Seychelles Island Palm, coco fesse, Maldive coconut, love nut, Seychelles nut, sea coconut, and double coconut. Not only is the coco de mer seed enormous but, because of its unique shape and size, it has a fascinating history.

About the Coco de Mer Tree

The coco de mer originates from the islands of Praslin and Curieuse in the Seychelles Islands. It was also found on the small islets of St Pierre, Chauve-Souris, and Ile Ronde (Round Island), all located near Praslin, but was extinct there for a time until recently reintroduced.

The coco de mer tree grows to 25 to 34 meters tall. The leaves are fan-shaped, 7 to 10 meters long and 4.5 meters wide. It is dioecious, meaning that reproduction requires separate male and female plants.

These plants grow wild on nutrient-starved, rocky soil. Nitrogen and phosphorus are two natural fertilizers with nutrients that these (and other plants) need. There isn’t much of either on the islands where these palms grow, so the plants are frugal. They sprout fronds using only about one-third of the nutrients needed by leaves of 56 neighboring species of trees and shrubs. What’s more, coco-de-mer palms can reuse 90 percent of the phosphorus contained in the fronds it’s about to drop. 

Seed Size

The coco de mer produces the world's largest wild fruit and the world's heaviest seeds. A single seed may be 12 inches long, nearly 3 feet in circumference, and weigh over 40 pounds (20 kg). The seed may take six to seven years to mature and a further two years to germinate. However, germination won't occur until the palm first reaches plant “puberty.” On the nutrient-poor ground, this reproductive coming-of-age may take 80 to 100 years. Only then can one of these palms yield its first seed. Throughout a female coco de mer palm’s life of several hundred years, it may bear only about 100 seeds.

History and Legends of the Coco de Mer Seed

The coco de mer seed is huge and heavy, and its shape is extraordinarily similar to that of a pair of female buttocks. These two qualities have given the seed a special status around the world.

Because it looks so much like a pair of female buttocks while the male flower is phallic in appearance, the coco de mer seed is the basis of at least two odd legends. According to the first legend, the male and female trees come together for nights of passion when no one is looking. If anyone actually witnesses the love-making, they are struck blind or die. According to the second legend, when Major General Charles George Gordon of the British Army first saw coco de mer seeds, he believed he was looking at the forbidden fruit offered by Eve to Adam in the Garden of Eden.

The coco de mer fruits, which contain the seed and are surrounded by a husk, are very heavy. When they fall into the sea, they sink to the bottom. After a period of time, the husk falls away and the fruit decays; gases form as a result, causing the seed to rise to the surface of the water. Over the centuries, sailors have discovered these huge floating seeds and believed them to the seeds of "sea coconuts." This led to the name coco de mer, or "coconut of the sea." The very rare seeds were highly prized; princes and emperors paid dearly to own them.