HAWAIIAN PALM TREES & COCONUTS
The Hawaiian coconut and Hawaiian palm tree on which it grows, are two of the universal symbols that represent the paradise of the Hawaiian Islands. Think about it. When you hear the word "Hawaii," isn't the first mental image that pops into your mind, that of a tropical paradise white sandy beaches covered and coconut palm trees? That's because the Hawaiian coconut and palm trees make nearly everyone feel relaxed and at peace with the natural wonder that surrounds them in Hawaii. In fact, when you visit any of the Hawaiian Islands, one of the actual sights you will personally encounter daily is people basking in the cool breeze under the tropic sun, sipping the sweet, fresh juice of a Hawaiian coconut, as you sit under a Hawaiian coconut palm tree. And, no trip to Hawaii would be complete without your spending at least a few hours or a full day under a Hawaiian coconut tree, either in a hammock, or under the shady fronds of a coconut palm tree.
The term coconut refers to the nut of the coconut palm. The coconut palm is a member of the palm family. It is a large palm tree, growing as high as 90 feet tall, with leaves (known as fronds) that grow up to 18 feet across. The coconut has spread across much of the tropics, probably aided in many cases by seafaring people throughout history. 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 the South Pacific. The fruit is light and buoyant and presumably spread significant distances by the ocean currents. Fruits collected from the sea as far north as Norway have been found to be viable (and subsequently germinated under the right conditions). The coconut palm grows best in places with sandy soils, like Hawaii . It requires both high temperatures and high humidity. In the United States , the only two states that the coconut palm can grow in without special treatment is Hawaii and Florida.
Uses of the Hawaii Coconut
Hawaii coconuts are used for a variety of applications, both functional and aesthetic, as well as for a culinary and non-culinary uses. However, virtually every part of the coconut palm has some human uses.
The durable and fibrous husk of the coconut, known as "coir", is widely used to make rope, yarn, aquarium filters, car seat covers, flower pots, soundproofing, mulch for plant growing, heat insulation, brushes, bristles, mattresses, rugs and carpets. The coir is also known as being very light in weight, and does not sink, therefore is widely used to make traditional Hawaiian canoes and other flotation devices. Industrially, coir may have a future in car manufacture, where it can be rubberized and used to make car seats, car visors, and other interior car parts.
The coconut shell is a tough, fibrous wood that serves as an outstanding material for the manufacture of furniture, wood canoes, novelties and other handicrafts due to its beautiful grain and appearance, durability, and lightweight. High value coconut wood products which include sea turtle decor, coconut jewelry, musical instruments, parquet floors, various novelties and curio items like walking sticks, ash trays, brooms, hammer handles, egg cups, plates, bowls, vases, etc. are equally, if not more than, comparable to expensive woods like teak, as far as appearance is concerned.
Coconut shell is also used in a variety of industrial applications. Coconut shell flour can be used as a filler for plastics, while coconut shells are turned into activated charcoal by first making charcoal by heating chunks of the shell at high temperatures without oxygen. The coconut charcoal is then treated with oxygen which opens up millions of tiny pores between carbon atoms. This is called activated charcoal which has unusual qualities of being able to absorb large amounts of impurities from gases and liquids. It is used to make filters for gas masks. Coir briquettes and coconut shells are both used as fuels in India. Coir is often used to help fire copra kilns in India, while coconut shells are made into charcoal.
The coconut meat itself, known as coconut fruit can be eaten alone, and is also processed and used as a delicious cooking oil, flavoring for foods such as cakes, cookies and sauces, as well as an extract to make coconut-scented make tanning and coconut body lotions and skin emolients, as well as toothpaste for sensitive teeth. Let's not forget, one of the most popular uses of Hawaii coconuts...for the flavoring of the world famous pina colada drink, that many of us fondly sip while sitting under a coconut tree enjoying the outdoor sun and beauty of Hawaii!
As you can see, the tropical Hawaiian coconut has a number of practical uses and is a symbol of tropical island paradise to nearly everyone who encounters one. The next time you enjoy one of the many uses of the Hawaii coconut, please remember that it is a meaningful part of Hawaii and our daily culture, and its use is vital to the growth of local industry.