Materia Medica, Pharmacology & Bio-Prospecting

The Cocos Tree (Lodoicea maldivica)

The Ambonese Herbal: Volume I is just one of seven volumes, which was completed in 1702 after Rumphius lost his records in multiple incidents. Rumphius identified a plant named Lodoicea maldivica, the nut of which has anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, antibiotic, and antidiarrheal properties. Back then, Rumphius used umbrella categories for multiple plant species that were inspired by the local plant relationship structure. He emphasized key characteristics, such as leaf appearance, wood appearance, presence/absence of latex, and the taste and smell of leaves, flowers, and fruit.

The image to the right shows the female and male trees of Lodoicea maldivica. The shorter female tree is on the left while the taller male tree, of about 100 feet, is to its right. These trees are known to have the longest leaves in the plant world.

Rumphius separated his plants into 13 categories and Lodoicea maldivica fell under the first category of “trees that contain natural and unmistakable stones in their wood or fruits, like the Calappa”.

The image below to the left shows the gigantic fruit of the plant. The seeds of this plant take 2 years to germinates, plants must grow 20 to 40 years before flowering, and fruits take 6–10 years to mature. The seeds can weigh up to 18 kilograms or almost 37 pounds! Empty shells of small nuts can be carved into bowls and vessels, while the larger ones can be made into stools and tables.
The image below to the right shows a small part of the outer fibrous covering of the fruit has been removed to show the two-lobed nut. It usually contains only 1 seed which is known to be the largest and heaviest in the plant kingdom. The male inflorescence has many flowers, and each flower produces a large number of pollen. 

Unlike some other plants, drawings of Lodoicea maldivica from The Ambonese Herbal: Volume I were accurate when compared to the actual one. The image has been hand-drawn and shows the entire tree, leaves, and the large fruit. Rumphius marked the characteristics of this tree as having coarse, tangled, and fibrous roots and spongy branches. The wood of the trunk is coarse from the outside but on the inside it is spongy, soft, and firmly held. The fruit grows from the upper part of the trunk.  All three images of Lodoicea maldivica illustrate the huge fruit of the tree, emphasizing its appeal and usefulness. Two images are zoomed in on the fruit, depicting its different forms, while the other one is a landscape showing the plant in its natural habitat. The images differ from each other in the way they are depicted - two of them are oil painted while the third one is digital. The time in which these images were made available could be a causal factor for the differences seen in the ways they were presented. The oil-painted images surfaced around the late 1800s when cameras and digital media were not accessible. The digital image would have been captured very recently, after documenting pictures using a camera became commonplace.

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