Legends of the Coco de Mer

By Anne Pinto-Rodrigues
One of the most enigmatic plants I’ve encountered in all my travels is the coco de mer palm. The only natural habitat of this endangered palm are the granitic islands of Praslin and Curieuse in the Seychelles.

This iconic palm holds several records in the plant kingdom. The fruit borne by the female palm of the species is the largest and heaviest in the plant kingdom. What is even more remarkable is that when the fruit is dehusked, the nut inside bears an uncanny resemblance to the nether region of the human female body!
A cultural symbol of the Seychelles, this rare nut embodies the uniqueness of the flora and fauna found on this island nation. Even the Seychelles visa stamp bears the shape of the coco de mer nut!
The Seychelles visa stamp in the shape of the coco de mer nut

The best place to see the coco de mer is the rich ecosystem of the Vallee de Mai palm forest on Praslin island.

In ancient times, these bi-lobed nuts were found washed up on beaches as far as India and even the islands of the Malay world. According to Malay folklore, this mysterious nut grew on a magic tree (pauh janggi) in a massive whirlpool known as the Navel of the Seas (pusat tasek). The legends surrounding this palm are as tall as the palm itself.

More about the legends of the coco de mer in my article for the Sep-Oct’16 issue of PASSAGE, the bi-monthly magazine of the Friends of the Museums Singapore. You can access the pdf version of the article here.

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