Seeds are superhumans since they can grow into forests and crops, be harvested for oil, and be used in medications. They’re so crucial, in fact, that there’s even a “doomsday” seed vault. But when it comes to the seed of the coco de mer, the world’s largest seed, things become a little less wholesome – at least on the surface (or backside).
An island giant: The coco de mer, commonly known as the double coconut, is a palm that grows on the Seychelles islands of Praslin and Curieuse. It can grow up to 110 feet (33.5 meters) tall, has leaves that are more than 9 meters (30 feet) long, and yields the largest fruit ever recorded (a hefty 90 pounds, or 41 kilograms).
Perhaps its most distinguishing attribute is that its coco de mer seeds are the largest in the world. They can grow to be 50 centimeters (19.7 inches) in diameter (approximately one-third the size of Danny DeVito) and weigh up to 25 kilograms (55 pounds), which is roughly the same as an adult bulldog.
Butts in the Seychelles: While we’re at it, let’s get the most crucial part out of the way – after all, you’ve seen the photo. The seed has the form of a butt. The term “sexy” was also bandied around the IFLScience office, but this was most likely due to personal choice.
Because of its size and distinctive shape, the seed has long been sought after by both tourists and criminal merchants. Make of that what you will, but their likeness to female buttocks was supposedly a welcome sight to lonely seafarers.
Speaking of sauciness, island tales indicate that the seeds are formed by the parent trees having a good time during a stormy night or a full moon. They are said to trek across the island looking for a spouse, meet in a loving embrace, and then have a tree baby.
No need for speed: Coco de mer seeds are the polar opposite of seeds that are engineered to disperse widely. They fall off the parent tree and remain there, waiting for the parent tree to die so they can use its nutrients for growth. That may take some time, as coco de mer can survive for more than 200 years. Even if the seed germinates, it can take between 15 and 50 years for the tree to grow and mature.
A species at risk: Unfortunately for buttheads and botany buffs alike, the coco de mer is classified as an endangered species on the IUCN Red List, with just about 8,000 mature trees remaining in the wild. Overharvesting is assumed to be the cause of this.
Inbreeding is typically one of the most serious hazards to endangered species; with a small pool of mates, the gene pool becomes limited as well, making fatal mutations more likely. This does not appear to be a problem for coco de mer, since a recent study found that when the parent trees are more closely related, the transition from seed to sapling is more effective. This condition, known as inbreeding euphoria (not a term we expected to be writing today), maybe the outcome of evolution on an isolated island.
The trees and seeds are also highly safeguarded by officials, having legal protection under Seychelles legislation as well as worldwide CITES laws. To safeguard the plants from poachers who try to steal the seeds and sell them for a high price, the plants are guarded and occasionally imprisoned. Fire is also a big hazard, thus a firebreak has been built around the palm forest as a precaution.