The hunt for lost varieties.
biogeography, culture, cultivation,
conservation and ecotourism
By Dr R. Bourdeix
The original coconut palm: on tropical islands well before man arrived.
The cultural coconut palm: the one in villages where coconut has been part of traditions, religions and symbolism for thousands of years.
The industrial coconut palm: with the development of estate plantations associated with colonialization, and with copra and fibre markets, over the last two hundred years.
The touristic coconut palm: a symbol of exotic locations, which plays a major role in the environment, eco-tourism, handicrafts, fashion and advertising.
The original aspect of the coconut palm covers the dissemination of its fruits by sea, the concepts of genetic drift, founding effects, natural selection and biodiversity. The theory of coconut dissemination and the mystery of the "wild" coconut palm, the first variety to be lost, are also discussed. Coconut reproduction methods, which vary depending on the varieties, are described, highlighting the research issues yet to be solved.
The cultural aspect and ethnology of the coconut palm are doubtless the main features of this lecture. The spectacular diversity of its fruits, and its worldwide distribution, are presented with special emphasis on the selection criteria that lie behind that diversity. Particular attention is paid to Dwarf coconut palms, the most advanced stage of coconut domestication by man. The feminine symbolism of the coconut palm is explored, particularly through Indian and Polynesian legends, linguistic analyses of Indonesian dialects, and a comparative mythology approach. The traditional South Sea islander practice of planting on islets is described; as part of a project, such practices could be incorporated into a rational modern strategy for biodiversity management.
The industrial coconut palm is examined from the angle of the planting material used in plantations, and the background of breeding techniques used for that material: low-efficiency mass selection, progeny-based selection, the advent of coconut hybrids and their improvement. The coconut palm seems to be evolving from the status of an industrial crop to a fruit, food and environmental crop.
The touristic coconut palm abounds, be it in advertising or planted in tropical tourist resorts; but all in all, little is known about coconut and its diversity in that professional environment. As far as cultural aspects, eco-tourism and gastronomy are concerned, coconut still requires further integration. In some countries, coconut-based handicrafts are developing, but further progress also remains to be made in that field. The answer lies in developing projects that combine eco-tourism, the renewal of local cultures, the conservation of genetic resources, and their use in landscaping, gastronomy and handicrafts.
We should like to see this lecture attended not only by scientists and farmers, but also landscape gardeners, mayors, those in charge of regional planning, managers of tourist complexes and travel agencies, associations for the renewal of local culture and lastly, of course, nurserymen and gardeners.
The lecture ends by a book signing of "Coconut, a guide to traditional and improved varieties" published in November 2005, of which the lecturer is a co-author. Press release is given on older posts.