Far away from the rest of the world, a Coco-de-Mer palm (Lodoicea maldivica) stretches its long trunk towards the sky while a young seedling at its base tenuously thrusts out its first leaf. In the coolness of the Vallée de Mai, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on Praslin - the second most populated island of the Seychelles, the sheer otherworldliness of the palm forest seems surreal.
But for researchers at the Vallée de Mai, which is run by the Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF), the atmosphere is conducive not just to a general sense of awe but also scientific curiosity.
SIF’s Chief Executive, Dr Frauke Flesicher-Dogley, has been the author of a veritable stack of research papers over the many years she and her team have spent studying the mysterious and strange Coco-de-Mer, which produces the largest nut in the plant world, weighing up to 25 kilograms each.
The plant has intrigued naturalists since the erotically-shaped nut, which resembles the shapely form of a woman’s behind, washed ashore in the Maldives after being swept out to sea from their home island of Praslin, once covered resplendently with the Coco-de-Mer palm trees.
Not knowing from whence they came, it was thought that an underwater palm produced the nuts, leading them to be called Coco-de-Mer or coconut of the sea.🌴 Although the nut’s mysterious origin was finally established after the Seychelles islands were explored and settled, there were still many answers to questions about the Coco-de-Mer that have been eluding enquiring minds until the present day, such as how the largest seed in the world manages to germinate in the red soil of Praslin, which is naturally low in essential plant nutrients of phosphorous and nitrogen. 🌴
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