We have just spent some time staying on Munroe Island and Alleppey. These are two places in the backwaters of Kerala, south west India. The back waters are over 900km of waterways, natural and man made that serve as roads for the people living in the area. Amanda tracked down a fairly inexpensive homestay on Munroe island and we have spent the past few days there.
In this area coconuts are king. As I write I am surrounded by coconut palms (Cocos nucifera). Coconut oil, and coir seem to be the main industries relating to the coconut (as well as some home distilled spirits from fermented coconut milk). On the street 12 rupees (15 p, or 30 nz cents) buys you a coconut (actually a fruit (the type of which is called a drupe), so not a nut technically, botanically, nerdtastically). The seller will wop the top off, give you a straw, then when you have drunk the milk, he will cut a scraper off the side of the coconut and, after chopping the nut in half, you are able to scrape out the soft flesh. Coconuts at this stage are 3-4 months old. The older they get the more “meat” or copra they contain, and it is the older fruit (10 months) that are used for oil, and coir.
This is Arjunan preparing a coconut for us to eat – possibly his most important plant – but alas, he has no English with which to answer our questions.
The copra is dried in the sun, then cold pressed to extract the oil. The oil is the main cooking oil and hair oil in this part of the world (and I suspect equal amounts are used for both).
The coir is extracted by putting the part surrounding the shell into a machine that pretty much destroys it. It looks like an upside down rotary hoe, but with very blunt blades. The resulting product looks like very coarse wool. It is then turned into rope, or cushions for chairs, or a myriad of other things.
We have a lot more to learn about coconuts, and hopefully we will find someone, who when we ask the magical words “which plant is most important to you?” they will fully understand the question and answer “Cocos nucifera of course – the coconut, and let me tell you everything I know about this fantastic plant, and why it is of such great importance to me……” . dreams are free – but it could happen.