The coconut comes from the coconut palm tree which grows throughout the tropics and subtropics.
The name coconut is derived from 16th century Portuguese sailors who thought the 3 small holes on the coconut shell resembled the human face so dubbed the fruit "coco" meaning "grinning face, grin, or grimace" The word nut was added in English later on.
The coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) can grow up to 30 m (98 ft) tall and the leave fronds 4–6 m (13.1–19.7 ft) long.
Technically the coconut fruit is a drupe not a nut. Typical drupes include peaches, plums, and cherries.
In the early stages of a coconuts growth it contains high levels of water which can be consumed directly as a refreshing drink. The water is also gaining popularity as a sports drink as it contains good levels of sugars, dietary fiber, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
Coconut water can be a substitute for blood plasma. The high level of sugar and other salts make it possible to add the water to the bloodstream, similar to how an IV solution works in modern medicine. Coconut water was known to be used during World War II in tropical areas for emergency transfusions.
Coconut milk is not the same as coconut water. Coconut milk has a high fat content of around 17%, but is low in sugars. It is frequently added to curries and other savoury dishes. Coconut cream can also be created from the milk.
Coir (the fiber of the husk) can be used for making ropes, mats, brushes, sacks, caulking for boats, and as stuffing for mattresses.
Coconut leaves have many uses such as for making brooms, woven to make baskets or mats, or dried and used as thatch for roofing.
The white, fleshy part of the coconut seed is called coconut meat. It has high amounts of Manganese, Potassium, and Copper. The meat is used fresh or dried in cooking, especially in confections and desserts such as macaroons.
Copra is the term used for the dried meat. This can be processed to produce coconut oil used in cooking, in soaps, cosmetics, hair-oil, and massage oil.
Wood from the trunk of the coconut palm was traditionally used to build bridges, houses, huts and boats in the tropics. The woods straightness, strength, and salt resistance made it a reliable building material.
The coconut palm is grown in over 80 countries. The top 3 coconut producing countries in 2010 were the Philippines, Indonesia and India.
In Thailand and Malaysia, trained pig-tailed macaques are used to harvest coconuts. In fact, there are still training schools for these monkeys in parts of the countries and each year competitions are held to find the fastest harvester.
The coconut does not get dispersed like other drupe fruits (through consumption by wildlife). Instead the coconut palm disperses its seed using the ocean. A coconut is very buoyant and highly water resistant and can travel very long distances across the ocean.
The Maldives have a coconut palm on the country's national coat of arms. It is the national tree and considered the most important plant on their islands.