Coco-de-mer palms scrimp and save to produce stupendous seeds
Coco-de-mer palms are an interesting example of biological priorities. They live on the two islands in the Seychelles, where the poor soil quality means that plants can’t be huge, extravagant and prolific. Resources have to be allocated very carefully and efficiently, especially for a tree that is trying to grow the largest seeds on Earth.
Part of the palm’s resource efficiency is in its shape. The folds and creases in the wide fronds all act as funnels that help channel water, dirt and even bird poo towards the root of the tree, helping it make up for the low amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus found in the soil. When a frond dies, 90% of the limb’s phosphorus is reclaimed before it falls off, minimizing waste.
A slow metabolism also plays a role in the Coco-de-mer’s growth. A tree normally takes 80 to 100 years to reach sexual maturity. Growing a single seed takes up to 6 years, meaning a tree that lives a few hundred years will grow up to 100 seeds.
Hulking seeds make it all worth it
These record-setting seeds, however, explain all the austerity described above. A single seed can weigh close to 40 pounds, and is too dense and heavy to float to new locales like most coconuts. It’s estimated that the tree spends up to 85% of its phosphorus producing them. And while only 20 to 30% of the seeds need to be successful to keep the Coco-de-mer’s population stable, human interest may be pushing them past the breaking point. Human demand for supposed aphrodisiacs from the seeds is more than such slow plants can keep up with, which is partly why they’re now an endangered species.
Source: How slow plants make ridiculous seeds by Susan Milius, Science News