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
Opening A Coconut:
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 the brown skin that will be
left on the back—it is entirely edible.
Borassus aethiopum Rhun palm/Fan palm/Palmyra palm B.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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 sufficiently polished.
The oil contains fatty alcohol and glycerine used in
soaps, detergents, shampoos, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics..
Alcohol: Sap 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 industrial applications.