Arecaceae (palm family). It is the only species in the genus Cocos, and is a large palm, growing to 30 m tall, with pinnate leaves 4–6 m long, pinnae 60–90 cm long; old leaves break away cleanly leaving the trunk smooth. The term coconut refers to the seed of the coconut palm. The spelling cocoanut is an old-fashioned form of the word.
The coconut palm is grown throughout the tropics for decoration as well as for its many culinary and non-culinary uses; virtually every part of the coconut palm has some human uses. In cooler climates (but not less than USDA Zone 9), a similar palm, the Queen palm (Syagrus romanzoffiana) is used in landscaping. Its fruit are very similar to the coconut but much smaller. It was originally classified in Cocos genus along with the coconut, but was later moved to Syagrus. A recently discovered palm, Beccariophoenix alfredii from Madagascar is nearly identical to the Coconut, even more than the Queen palm. It is cold-hardy and makes a good coconut-lookalike for many[which?] cooler areas.
The coconut has spread across much of the tropics, probably aided in many cases by seafaring people. Coconut fruit in the wild is light, buoyant and highly water resistant and evolved to disperse significant distances via marine currents. Fruit collected from the sea as far north as Norway are viable. In the Hawaiian Islands, the coconut is regarded as a Polynesian introduction, first brought to the islands by early Polynesian voyagers from their homelands in Oceania. They are now almost ubiquitous between 26°N and 26°S except for the interiors of Africa and South America.
The flowers of the coconut palm are polygamomonoecious, with both male and female flowers in the same inflorescence. Flowering occurs continuously. Coconut palms are believed to be largely cross-pollinated, although some[which?] dwarf varieties are self-pollinating. The “nut” of the coconut is the edible endosperm, located on the inner surface of the shell. Inside the endosperm layer, coconuts contain an coconut juice that is sweet or salty or both sweet and salty.
Coconuts received the name from Portuguese explorers, the sailors of Vasco da Gama in India, who first brought them to Europe. The brown and hairy surface of coconuts reminded them of a ghost or witch called Cuco. When coconuts arrived in England, they retained the coco name and nut was added.