Origin: Native to South America.
Planted extensively throughout the mid-19th century and still popular in landscaping today, the Cocos Palm can be found all over Australia’s east coast, in Darwin, Western Australia, South Australia and in Tasmanian parks and garden.
A long-lived palm, it can grow from 1-2 metres annually and will tolerate salt, drought, frosts and shallow soil.
Cocos Palms have long leaf-plumes of a distinct, feathery appearance. They provide an instant tropical-feel to gardens, although their early dying fronds can become unsightly if not pruned.
They have a flat, fibrous root system, which has made them popular as poolside trees. There, they can provide shade without causing subterranean damage to the pool walls and help to give a resort-style atmosphere to a suburban backyard.
Their reliably straight trunks and easy growth has also seen them planted by councils, in rows, along avenues and bayside walkways. When cultivated in this manner, they give a visual impression of grandeur and neat uniformity.
Their tall, slender trunks can take them up to 20 metres high, however their average is around 12 metres. Cocos Palms are topped with long, plumes of pinnate leaves that attach to the tree via the wide base of their stalks.
Solitary grey trunk covered in boat-shaped, woody leaf scars. It can grow to approximately 30 centimetres in diameter.
Cocos Palms produce branched flower panicles of up to 2 metres long. Their inflorescences open leaving long dry bracts on the palm. Their flowers are small, yellowish-white in appearance and cluster by the hundreds.
Within the monoecious sprays of flower both male and female variations occur. Pollination happens with the assistance of fruit bats who, attracted to the rich nectar of the flowers, carry and distribute pollen in their fur.
Unfortunately for the flying foxes, who also distribute the palms’ seed, they can become trapped in the palm and have their thin wings damaged by the flowers’ tough spikes. Even more of an issue however is the hard nut of the cocos palm grinds down flying foxes’ teeth over time so that they cannot eat and starve to death. This is considered to be the main reason why flying foxes live over twice as long in captivity compared to the wild.
Enormous 5 metre, pinnate leaves with up to 500 very long leaflets attached to each thick stalk. Its leaves are green with a grey underside and although they have pointed tips, the leaves are not spiked or as sharp as other palm varieties.
The Cocos palm is distinctive for the clusters of golden, yellow fruit that dangle between its fronds. Birds and various mammals, including some foxes, consume the trees’ sweet offerings, which turn from orange from yellow when ripened.
The sticky centre of the fruit is accessed by breaking through a tough, nut-like outer shell.
A proliferation of fruit means the Cocos Palm sets an enormous amount of seed annually. If not removed before ripening, seedlings will appear around the base of the palm and at great distances, where birds and bats have carried seeds in their droppings.
Unwanted seedlings have been known to germinate from commercially available mulch and while Cocos Palm stumps will not reshoot, they should be completely dug out, rather than snipped or decrowned.
Like most palms, these require full sunlight and free draining soil. They are gross feeders and benefit from access to rich, organic matter. Heavy mulching with compost is recommended during the tree’s early years of growth. They should also be fed nitrogen rich plant food with supplements of iron.
Cocos Palms do not respond well to alkaline or limely soils which leave the tree suffering from a condition known as ‘frizz top’. This is where new fronds arrive already yellowed or browned and with a slightly burnt appearance. It can be remedied with the application of manganese sulphate three times a year.
Highly acidic, these palms are notoriously difficult to prune or cut through. Their acid in combination with a stringy, fibrous texture has been known to damage chainsaw blades, clogging up and eating away at the metal.
Other management issues with this palm include its overall weight including the heaviness of fruit clusters and individual fronds. When pruning, gardeners also have to be aware of the spider families that are almost always a part of the tree, the ant colonies they can attract and trapped fruit bats.