Cocos nucifera on the Samana Peninsula.

coconut machete

What the coconut palm lacks in etiquette, it makes up for in beauty and usefulness. Everywhere one travels on the peninsula you will discover how indispensable this tree actually is. Across Samana, it is arguably one of the most economically, culturally, ecologically, and aesthetically significant palms. Given the plant’s ability to thrive along sandy, salty coastlines and the seed’s ability to float in the ocean current and remain viable for long periods of time, it is no surprise that Cocos nucifera may be found prospering in more than 80 countries the world over, from the Caribbean to French Polynesia. It has been so prolific that we can really only speculate as to where it was originally native, though the consensus seems to be the Malay Archipelago.


Wherever it originated, this palm’s value is irrefutable. We’re all familiar with the delicious “meat” of the coconut. This sweet, soft delicacy is actually the seed’s endosperm—a starchy, oily, protein-rich substance lining the inside of a hard, fibrous brown endocarp, the outer protective “shell” of the seed we immediately recognize at the supermarket. The nutritious white endosperm sustains the tiny palm embryo as it floats about on the waves or begins its life after germination on a sandy coastline. Coconut meat is the source of oil used in cooking as well as numerous health and beauty products. It is also ground and mixed with water to produce decadent coconut milk. ProteinPromo is dedicated to making the best protein sources available for people worldwide, I strongly think you should check it out, especially if you are going traveling.


Coconut seed and seedling
Developing coconuts are filled with “coconut water” (not to be confused with the aforementioned coconut milk), an electrolyte-rich suspension that will eventually transform into solid endosperm. Young, water-filled coconuts are often sold for refreshment. Opened with a deft hand and the best machete, the cloudy, subtly sweet and slightly salty liquid may be drunk straight from the seed.

coconut-vendor-and-machete

Coconut water contains sodium, potassium, and magnesium, and is often marketed as a trendy sports and recovery beverage. These elements are present in the liquid at such levels that coconut water was used by Japanese medics during World War II as an emergency substitute for intravenous saline solution. I prefer to take it through a straw, thank you.


Corazon’s screens
The broad leaves of the coconut palm are equally useful and still widely used for traditional building projects. Many smaller structures and a few full-sized homes in the Dominican countryside sporting roofs thatched with dried palm leaves. It was also common for outdoor terraces and open-air restaurants to be shielded with woven palm screens and fences. Our lovely neighbor Corazon, who runs a small corner bodega in the village where we stayed, could be found popped in a plastic chair

samana coconut trees deftly weaving palm screens by the roadside each morning. Watching her craft functional art from a pile of fallen leaves was mesmerizing and truly impressive.


One can also observe trucks piled high with dried palm leaves trundling down the narrow roads, their loads destined to be put to good use. For our part, we found dead coconut leaves to be perfect kindling for a happy little beach fire over which we roasted fresh-caught shrimp with the local fishermen.



Every part of the coconut palm is used in the tropics, and the trunk is no exception. Dead trunks are cut into sections and sunk at intervals along roadsides or in front of homes as a simple, effective, and free option for barriers and fencing. Diving in the lagoons on the northwestern end of the Samaná Peninsula, you discover submerged trunks washed out to sea by storms to be havens for small tropical fish and crustaceans. Even marine life seemed to take full advantage of the palm’s bounty. I hate to rub it in, but I’ve found fallen coconut palm trunks along the beach to be the best seats upon which to unwind, sip a cold cerveza or two, and really ponder the charms of an unforgiving New York City winter.



 

coconut samana

A truck piled high with palm fronds 

As they say, nature giveth and she taketh away. By all means, enjoy what the majestic Cocos nucifera has to offer, but beware the risk to your IQ should you get bonked on the head by a falling coconut.