Plants and Folklore: Coco de Mer

By Nathan Smith

A lush palm forest sits untouched by mankind. Huge leaves spread out to gather the sun’s rays and through the forest … swims a shark? This is the case of the Coco de Mer and the legend that surrounded it.

The Coco De Mer is a unique plant. The sole member of its genus, it is found naturally only in the Seychelles. Its seeds are the heaviest in the plant kingdom, weighing up to 17.6 kg. If and when a Coco de Mer fruit falls into the sea, it sinks to the bottom. After a while, the husk drops off and the internal parts of the nut decay. The resultant gases that form inside the nut cause the bare nut to float to the surface.

Those who witnessed the nut rise up out of the ocean reasoned (semi-logically) that it must grow on underwater trees located at the bottom of the ocean. Furthermore, many believed (a lot less logically) that these underwater trees to be the home of a fearsome bird-like creature that could hunt elephants and tigers.

In 1768, the origin of the nuts  was finally traced to the Seychelles by the expedition of Chevalier Marion Dufresne. His second in command, Jean Duchemin, returned a year later and exported such a quantity of nuts as to flood the market and quash much of their extraordinary reputation.

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