Monday, October 25, 2010

Sex Coconut

You’d be hard pressed to find a more romantic, more evocative title for a Wikipedia page: “Legends of the Coco de Mer.” The name suggests some fancy, old collection of island-hopping adventures that you might find in the corner of some eccentric’s library. Or it could be a Nickelodeon game show. Either, really. But “Legends of the Coco de Mer” is how the page begins now. And this magical-sounding item of produce is the subject of today’s post.

Consider of this a follow-up to the post about the Vegetable Lamb of Tartary, the bizarre sheep-plant combo monster that supposedly existed but, alas, did not exist. In that post, I talked about how the Wikipedia category for “mythological plants” included surprisingly few entries. However, the Vegetable Lamb wasn’t alone; it had the Sea Coconut to keep its company. And oh, what company it provides. The article reads like a dummy entry someone posted on Wikipedia specifically to get me to blog about it. If that’s the case, well done, sir or madam.

The largest seed in the plant kingdom, the nut of the Coco de Mer palm would drop to the ground and fall into the ocean, floating from its native habitat in the Seychelles to places as far away as the Maldives. There, people noted that the nut, when denuded of its husk, looked like a woman’s buttocks on one side and a belly and thighs on the other.

The current scientific name for the Coco de Mer, Lodoicea maldivica, was even preceded by a far more entertaining one: Lodoicea callipyge, the species name literally meaning “beautiful butt” and being related to one of my words-of-the-week, kakopygian, “having an ugly ass.” Naturally, people concluded that nuts resembling the sexy ladyparts wielded magical properties, and the nuts became highly prized. They also circulated stories about undersea trees whose fruit dropped “up” — that is, toward the surface. In a way, they weren’t off the mark. As it happens, the whole fruits had to sink to the bottom of the ocean, where the husk would eventually shed and the nut’s insides would rot, creating a gas that made them float to the surface and then far-off places. However, by virtue of their buoyancy, the nuts were also infertile, and I think there’s some irony in something that looks so sexual no longer being reproductively viable.

Eventually, humans inhabited the Seychelles and realized these fanny nuts were not, in fact, coming from upside-down, undersea orchards but from normal palm trees. And that’s when things really get weird. The Coco de Mer has female and male trees. The females bear the nuts, while the males produce long, phallic, unmistakably penis-like catkins.

Almost too much, right?

This combination of “Hey! These look like our naked women during sexytimes!” and “Those ones over there look like the parts what we have!” led to additional unfortunate conclusions: that the trees have physical intercourse on stormy nights, that the male trees uproot themselves to meet up with their arboreal sweethearts, that anyone who saws the trees mating would die or go blind (of course), and that the sexy Sea Coconut was actually the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. (Not sure how that last one squealed in there, but if it had been the case, I would imagine Eve wouldn’t have eaten the fruit on grounds that it tasted like shit.)

All of it hilarious and entertaining, I say. But I think it’s worth pointing out that the humans first observed the tree form of the Coco de Mer in 1768 — less than ten years before the Revolutionary War and, really, not all that long ago — and yet they still jumped to the most fantastical, implausible explanation for how the trees reproduce: tree sex, penis-vagina-style, which, now that I think about it, is also pretty damn self-centered. Funny how we act that way.

In conclusion: Omigod, doesn’t that thing look just like a butt?!

The horrible, wonderful intersection of food and sexiness:

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