There are a lot of reasons why the Seychelles are a popular tourist spot, but one popular factor is the unique and beautiful flora and fauna. Located in the Indian Ocean northeast of Madagascar, this archipelago of over one hundred small islands is home to such unusual plants and animals as the jellyfish tree, the Seychelles Black Parrot and the Aldabra giant tortoise. However, no native species of plant or animal is as famous as the strange and alluring Coco de Mer.
Also called the double coconut and the love nut, the Coco de Mer is every bit as exotic and beautiful as its homeland. It holds the distinction of being the largest seed in the world, with individual specimens sometimes weighing up to 30 kilos. The nuts have a unique, delicate and complex taste. On page 122 of in his book The Fruit Hunters, writer Adam Leigh Gollner opines that the Coco de Mer has a “mild citrus like quality, refreshing and sweet with earthy, spunky notes.” He concludes that “it tastes like coconut flesh, only sexier.” Some others have suggested that its flavour more closely resembles breast milk. In recent years, food enthusiasts have begun to flock to the Seychelles to experience the delicate and delicious taste of this peculiar breed of coconut, which can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
The Coco de Mer has been casting its spell on people for a very long time. Before the beautiful Seychelles were inhabited, the nut was carried from the islands by ocean currents and deposited in a variety of places. People didn’t know where it came from, but they still found themselves strangely drawn to it. The Coco de Mer washed up in Maldives, where it became such an important part of local medicine and trade that it came to be called the Maldive Coconut-a name that lives on the Coco de Mer’s scientific name, Lodoicea maldivica.
Sailors believed the Coco de Mer grew on underwater trees. They imagined strange forests on the sea’s floor where the double coconut grew, fell from the tree and then floated upward. This piece of folklore can be explained by the fact that the Coco de Mer begins its life too heavy to float. If a double coconut falls into the sea, it sinks to the bottom, where it is pushed about by deep sea currents. However, as time passes, some of the seed’s inner parts decay, creating buoyant gases. This causes the nut to suddenly float to the surface, as if having risen from a tree on the ocean’s bottom.
The appearance of the Coco de Mer has surely helped to establish its allure. The husk of the nut has a sensual, exotic appearance that many claim closely resembles a woman’s buttocks. In fact, an older name for the Coco de Mer is Lodoicea callipyge, which essentially means “palm with shapely buttocks.” The other side of the husk has an appearance which closely mimics the front of a woman’s pelvis, with stomach and thighs clearly visible. This resemblance was not lost in India, where the nut husks were sometimes used to symbolize the sacred feminine.
The trees themselves are equally impressive in appearance. They are massive, growing up to 34 metres. They bear large green fronds which can sometimes measure up to 10 metres. Incidentally, these fronds are currently regarded as the longest leaves in the world. A full grown Coco de Mer tree is a sight to behold.
Unlike many types of palm, there are separate male and female Coco de Mer trees. While only the females produce the fruit, the males produce striking (and somewhat phallic) displays of flowers. In the Seychelles, legend has it that the trees uproot themselves on blustery nights and make tempestuous love when no one’s around to see.
The Coco de Mer has always been highly prized for its beauty, taste and reputed healing powers. Although single nuts often sold for a king’s ransom, they were highly sought after by wealthy European noblemen who enhanced the nuts’ natural beauty by encrusted them with jewels. The nut was no less popular among scientists who believed that it was a true panacea and could cure any malady. Although many of its supposed healing powers have been disproved, the Coco de Mer still enjoys a healthy reputation as a potent aphrodisiac.