The Mystery of Maldive Coconut (Lodoicea maldivica)
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Environment News, Articles and Reports

The Mystery of Maldive Coconut (Lodoicea maldivica)

Prepared by Ali Rilwan, Bluepeace
Bluepeace Special Report, May 2004

The natives of the Maldive islands have heard of the local name of Maldive coconut, as Thaavah Kaashi, but mysteriously many at present are not even aware of the shape of it. The local name Thaavah Kaashi has been in the Dhivehi vocabulary for centuries and hard shell of the Maldive coconut is still used in local medicine for sexual enhancement purposes.

Maldive Coconut (Lodoicea maldivica)
Maldive Coconut (Lodoicea maldivica)

The Russian author Nikolai Osipov in 1985, in his article Sailing Seven Seas: Great Seafarers stated centuries before in the Maldive Islands, there was very strange global trade. The seller didn’t know exactly what he was selling, and the buyers didn’t know really what they were buying. What was sold and bought were very strange gifts of the sea, which the natives of these islands found from time to time, washed off on their beaches or picked up from the sea. Even the British Hydrographer of East India Company, James Horsburgh Esq. had found them.

According to Nikolai, the islanders thought they were fruits from mysterious tree which grew at the bottom of the sea. It was even said that the Sea God sent them as gifts to men, and that they brought good fortune to the person who found them. These islanders boggled the imagination, because of the humongous size, almost two feet thickness.

Everyone wanted a share in the good fortune. But the Sultans of the islands set up strict control over the gathering of the strange fruits. The mysterious gifts of the sea found themselves wealthy buyers.
It was believed that there was a miraculous power in the fruits that could protect from poisoning. Many Indian Rajahs, who went in fear of being poisoned by their courtiers, ordered their court masters to make goblets of the hard shell of the kernel and drank only from them.
The Sultans of the Maldives did everything possible to keep this superstition alive and sold his merchandise to the Indian Rajahs at a fabulously high price- almost the weight of gold. But as the centuries passed the miraculous lucky charm was gradually forgotten. At that time, the natives of the Maldive Islands and Indian Rajahs were only peoples ignorant of this strange fruit from the sea. The western botanists were also mysteriously ignorant of it, as a matter fact, it was name as Locoicoa maidivica not as Locoicoa sechellarum.

Lodoicea maldivica

According to Orta these were widely believed to had originally grown in the Maldive Islands at a time when they still formed part of the mainland of India and, when the palms became very old, they must had dropped off and become buried in the earth. When the land was flooded by the ocean, the coconuts remained buried under the water and from time to time during storms it would float to surface, usually joined together in pairs and natives of the Maldives would collect them.

However, Dr. Orta provided some important information on the use of the Maldive coconut in the Maldive Islands. According to him, the natives of the these islands liked to drink the sweet juice of these Maldive coconuts with fish and rice, and the flesh was believed to provide a good cure against poison and “malignant fever”, as well as cure for a wide variety of illness, including colic, paralysis. The shell was commonly made into goblets engrave gold, silver and precious stones.

According to Orata, the Queen of Portugal ordered a quantity of the nuts to be sent to her every year, and the Emperor Rudlf II said to have offered 4,000 forms for a single nut. Orta further stated that any person who, finding a sea coconut on the beaches in the Maldive Islands, did not immediately take it to the king was punished by death.
In fact, these strange gifts of the sea were so called Maldive Coconuts or Lodoicoa maidivica. Locoicoa maidivica is native to Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. This fruit is also know as coco-de mer , Sea coconut or Double coconut too. There are no historical or archaeological evidence saying these coco-de-mer palms ever grew in the Maldive Islands, unlike coconut they do not germinate once tossed out upon the shore. They are destroyed by the salt water with which the sand on the shore is saturated.

The Seychelles were uninhabited until fairly recent times only in the 1770’s. French planters and their slaves settled down. However, these islands were first sighted at the beginning of the 16th century, by Vasco da Gama, a Portuguese navigator, but the Portuguese did not attempt to settle there.

Long before the Seychelles was settled, this palm grow on the coastal areas, where the fruit that falls from the palm sometimes float across the Indian Ocean and were picked up in the Maldivian waters.

Maldive coconut

Maldive coconut, Lodoicea maldivica, this very large nut looks like two coconuts joined together, side by side. Maldive coconut has been classified very close to coconut, but is not related to the coconut. It belongs to the Borassoid group of palms. Maldive coconut is the world’s largest and heaviest seed, a single seed may be 12 inches long, nearly three feet in circumference and weigh 20kg. The Maldive coconut palms grow only on a small island named Praslin in the Seychelles. Plants of these nuts are tender and very slow-growing, the nut takes a year to germinate and another year to form its first leaf, and it can attain heights of 100 feet and leaf blades to 20 feet in length and 12 feet in diameter. Ripe interior (endosperm) of coco-de-mer is normally like jelly, not firm and white like cocos nucifera (coconut). Maldive coconut is also said to be a powerful aphrodisiac still used in Asian herbal medicine.

In conclusion, even though Lodoicea maldivica, never existed or never grew in the Maldive Islands. It could argue that the Maldives deserves the first name or surname of the Lodoicea maldivica for the historical reasons, namely peoples of these islands initially introduced the nut globally and locally using it in food and medicine for centuries.