The coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) evokes a tropical paradise, perhaps an afternoon lounging by the sea with an exotic cocktail. Adding a graceful coconut palm to your home landscape can add not only visual interest but edible fruit as well, bringing a taste of the tropics to your kitchen.
Coconut Palm Description
The coconut palm is not a tree, but a woody perennial with a trunk that is really its stem. Typically growing from 50 to 60 feet tall, with some reaching 100 feet high, this palm really stands out. The evergreen coconut palm's top can spread to 25 feet wide with fronds that reach from 18 to 36 inches in length. Its leaves may be green or yellow. Light tan in color, the rough trunk is usually slightly curved but occasionally grows leaning toward the ground. In spring, this palm produces white, cream or gray non-showy flowers. Fruit production begins 6 to 10 years after first planting, and fruit size ranges from 6 to 12 inches long with green husks covering hard fruit that is brown once ripe.
A Landscape Favorite
The coconut palm can be an interesting and graceful landscape specimen. It is best placed in the background of your garden, unless you plan to prune it regularly to avoid fruit from falling and causing injury. It is often planted along streets and walkways for dramatic effect, but care must always be taken to make sure no fruit is present. Avoid planting your coconut palm near power lines because they can grow tall enough to interfere with them. The coconut palm is often used in beach cities, adding a tropical look. It also tolerates the salty ocean spray that exists in these areas.
The coconut palm is widespread throughout the shorelines of its native tropics, but can grow inland in areas that provide it with a minimum average temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit. According to the University of Florida IFAS Extension, the fruit of the coconut palm can float great distances, wash ashore and germinate itself to form new trees without any human intervention. It prefers full sunlight and grows best in well-drained soil, but is tolerant of most soil types, ranging from clay to sandy. Though highly drought-tolerant, this palm prefers moist soil when possible. The coconut palm grows best in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 10b to 11a. Consider providing your coconut palm with a "palm special" fertilizer, available at garden centers; they are susceptible to several nutritional deficiencies.
Dwarf Coconut Palm
Dwarf versions of the coconut palm like the Fiji dwarf (Cocos nucifera "Niu Leka") are available if your garden isn't big enough for a full-size tree. The Fiji Dwarf is a slow-growing coconut palm that reaches from 10 to 15 feet high. It has very broad leaves and a thick, crooked trunk. It grows well in USDA zones 10b through 11.