The coconut is a palm found throughout the tropics. Coconuts supply many human needs, including food, drink and building materials. The ability of the fruits to survive long periods in seawater, and their value to early seafaring people, has resulted in them being widely dispersed. Coconuts are often classified by their growth habit. About 5% of coconut palms cultivated worldwide are self-pollinating “Dwarfs” whilst the more common are out-crossing “Talls”.
Two independent coconut domestications probably took place: one in island Southeast Asia (Pacific basin) and the other on the southern margins of the Indian subcontinent (Indo-Atlantic basin). “Niu vai” types with rounded fruits and high coconut “water” content arose only in the Pacific basin. About 2250 BP, Austronesian seafarers probably introduced coconuts from the Phillippines into the Pacific coast of South America. Between the 5th and 7th centuries, Austronesians and Arabs dispersed coconuts from the Pacific basin to the southern coast of Africa, the Comoros and Madagascar.
Genesys lists 168 coconut accessions. The bulk of these (86%) are in a field genebank at the Station de Recherche Marc Delorme in Côte d’Ivoire, an Article 15 collection, with the remainder in the USA. About 43% are traditional cultivars and landraces and 40% are improved cultivars. Research into cryopreservation of coconut is continuing and shows promise but is not yet routine.
To achieve rational conservation of coconut genetic resources, the global strategy for Cocos nucifera prioritizes the following actions: conduct further collecting missions to address conservation gaps, characterize existing germplasm accessions, improve documentation systems, and increase collaboration among members of the International Coconut Genetic Resources Network (COGENT).