Coconut: Origin and Nomenclature

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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Botanists disagree about whether the species originated in the region of the E. Indies and Melanesia, as most think, or in tropical America, as a minority have vigorously argued.
The minority view is supported by the fact that almost all the coconut palm’s relations are American, the one important exception being the oil palm, which is African. Yet the coconut has, at most, an exiguous history in C. America in pre-Columbian times; the evidence that the earliest Spanish invaders found it growing on the west coast of the Isthmus of Panama is uncertain; and if it was growing there it is odd that its cultivation was not widespread, since it is so useful. In contrast, the coconut has been been known in E. Asia and the islands for a very long time indeed; it exists in greatest variety in that region; and there is other evidence (including the number of species of insects associated with it in the various regions) that it did originate there, probably in Melanesia.