Coconut palms are sprinkled along the western edge of The
Gambia. If you are adventurous, use a long stick to pull some
green coconuts from a short tree—there are often several branches
suitable for this task in the walled in area between the hotel
and the road. Aim to dislocate the stem from the top of the
husk rather than simply beating it. Once the coconut has fallen,
use a machete to knock off the outer husk.
To get the coconut milk out, use a screwdriver, nail or other
semi-sharp, thin object to poke through one of the three dark
circles at the top of the brown shell. Try all three to see
which is the softest—there will always be one hole that is
easiest to pierce. If you can poke a second hole through one
of the harder circles, the milk will be easier to pour. Once
all the milk has been drained, simply throw the coconut solidly
against cement or rock to break it open. A knife or metal
spoon can be used to separate the white flesh from the hard
shell. Don’t worry about
brown skin that will be left on the back—it is entirely edible.
Borassus aethiopum Rhun palm/Fan
palm/Palmyra palm B. flabellifer
Elaeis guineensis African oil palm
Cocus nucifera Coconut
Raphia vinifera Bamboo palm
Raphia hookeri Raffia palm/Roofmat palm/Wine
Raphia palma-pinus Raffia palm
Calamus deërratus Rattan C. barteri/C. heudelotii
Hyphaene thebaica Doum palm/Gingerbread palm
I Phoenix dactylifera Date palm
Phoenix reclinata Swamp date palm/Dwarf date
palm/Senegal date palm
Cocos nucifera trees have a smooth, columnar, light grey-brown
trunk, with a mean diameter of 30-40 cm at breast height, and
topped with a terminal crown of leaves. Tall selections may
attain a height of 24-30 m; dwarf selections also exist. Trunk
slender and slightly swollen at the base, usually erect but may
be leaning or curved. Leaves pinnate, feather shaped, 4-7m long
and 1-1.5 m wide at the broadest part. Leaf stalks 1-2 cm in
length and thornless. Inflorescence consists of female and male
auxiliary flowers. Flowers small, light yellow, in clusters that
emerge from canoe-shaped sheaths among the leaves. Male flowers
small and more numerous. Female flowers fewer and occasionally
completely absent; larger, spherical structures, about 25 mm in
diameter. Fruit roughly ovoid, up to 5 cm long and 3 cm wide,
composed of a thick, fibrous husk surrounding a somewhat
spherical nut with a hard, brittle, hairy shell. The nut is
2-2.5 cm in diameter and 3-4 cm long. Three sunken holes of
softer tissue, called ‘eyes’, are at one end of the nut. Inside
the shell is a thin, white, fleshy layer known as the ‘meat’.
The interior of the nut is hollow but partially filled with a
watery liquid called ‘coconut milk’. The meat is soft and
jellylike when immature but becomes firm with maturity. Coconut
milk is abundant in unripe fruit but is gradually absorbed as
ripening proceeds. The fruits are green at first, turning
brownish as they mature; yellow varieties go from yellow to
brown. The generic name seems to be derived from the Portuguese
‘coco’, meaning ‘monkey’.
The most common type of coconut palm in Gambia is the type belonging to
the Arecaceae (Palmae)
family called the Cocos nucifera.
History of cultivation:
Origin of C. nucifera is disputed but evidence favours
Southeast Asia, with subsequent migration east and
west, to the Pacific and Latin America, and to India,
Madagascar and East Africa. Coconuts
did not reach The Gambia in West Africa until they
were taken there by the Portuguese, around the Cape
of Good Hope, after AD 1500.
C. nucifera is unknown in the wild state. In the coastal areas
of the tropics and subtropics where it is grown, it requires a
hot, moist climate and deep alluvial or loamy soil, thriving
especially near the seaboard, but also considerable distance
inland, provided climatic conditions and soil are suitable.
Rocky, laterite or stagnant soils are unsuitable.
Along the beach areas of Banjul, down south to Kartong as well
as some way inland and past Brikama.
Altitude: 520-900 metres, Mean annual temperature: 20-28 deg. C,
Mean annual rainfall: 1000-1500 mm Soil type: C. nucifera is
tolerant to soil variations but its natural preference is for
sandy, well-aerated and well-drained soils. It has considerable
ability to adapt to soils of heavier texture.
The tall varieties reproduce by cross-pollination. Male flowers
open first, producing pollen for about 2 weeks. Female flowers
are not usually receptive until about 3 weeks after the opening
of the inflorescence, making cross-pollination the usual
pattern. Wind coming from the Atlantic Ocean is the main
pollinating agent. Reproduction in dwarf varieties is generally
through self -pollination. Female flowers are receptive about a
week after the male flowers open, both ending at about the same
time. C. nucifera flowers approximately after the 6th year.
Seed has no dormancy, and growth of embryo and seedling is
continuous. Germination may begin while the fruits are still
attached to the palm tree. Tissue culture is a popular method of vegetative
propagation for producing a large number of progeny. For seed
propagation, nuts are collected from selected mother palms or
special seed gardens.
Food: Copra, the dried coconut endosperm, contains an edible
cooking oil (coconut oil). The apical region of C. nucifera is a food delicacy in areas where it is
grown. Other food derivatives of coconut include coconut chips,
coconut jam, coconut honey, coconut candy and other desserts.
Fuel: The high moisture content of C. nucifera
palm wood and the difficulty of splitting it has made it
relatively unpopular as firewood. Coconut shell charcoal is a
minor part of fuel wood.
Fibre: Three types
of fibres are obtained from the coconut husks: mat fibre or yarn
fibre, used in making baskets, mats; bristle fibre, used for brush
making; and mattress fibre, used in stuffing mattresses and in
upholstery. Leaflets are used in braiding mats, baskets and
Samakat (cattle herders')
hats. Timber: C. nucifera timber has traditionally been used in
Gambia for the structural framework of houses.
Coconut timber taken from the lower and middle parts of the
trunk can be used for load-bearing structures in buildings, such
as frames, floors and trusses. Coconut trunks can be used for
poles, as they have great flexibility and strength. The wood can
also be used for furniture and parquet flooring when
Lipids: The oil
contains fatty alcohol and glycerine used in soaps, detergents,
shampoos, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics..
from the tender, unopened inflorescence (coconut palm tree sap) is
used in the producing areas for an alcoholic beverage
obtained by natural fermentation. This drink contains 6-7.5% alcohol.
The distillation of fermented coconut toddy yields a spirit
called Cana, produced on a small-scale commercial basis in
Gambia. Other products: Coconut-shell flour, obtained from
grinding clean, mature coconut shells to fine powder, is used as
an abrasive for cleaning machinery. Coconut-shell charcoal may
be processed further into activated carbon that has many