Imagine yourself on an island. The Indian Ocean curls around at your toes, washing up coral, shells, and...the sculpted form of a woman's nether region? To 16th century sailors, the headless curvaceous totem was a beautiful thing to behold: mysterious, inexplicable, and arousing. Perhaps it's not surprising that it took quite some time before anyone bothered to get to the bottom of it.
Botanists still think the truth is terribly sexy: the sea-faring specimen is a fruit of the coco-de-mer ("Coconut of the Sea"), or double coconut (Lodoicea maldivica). Not only alluring, it also bears the largest seeds of any known plant. Each seed weighs up to 66 pounds, which is a tremendous effort for the tree. And so they are understandably few in number—a far cry from the clouds of dandelion seeds that fill the air on a breezy day.
Photo from Kew.org
The coco-de-mer takes an entirely different strategy for reproduction. The tree is endemic to two Seychelles Islands, where it nurtures each coveted fruit for seven years. Then, the voluptuous fruit is cast into the tropics, bearing its two heavy seeds. The husk breaks apart and the seeds settle and germinate (that is, if they're not plucked for the black market—coveted by delirious sailors centuries ago and today, by traders, who can sell the seeds for a high price).
Anna Laurent is a writer and producer of educational botanical media. Photographs from her forthcoming field guide to Los Angeles are available for exhibition and purchase at the author's shop.