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Why The Coconut Palm Points to the Sea

The coconut palm tree (Cocos nucifera) does something that very few trees do. It leans into wind.

Most trees have trunks that will bend away from the wind. A trunk that leans downwind is less exposed and structurally better for surviving strong winds. But the coconut palm is a rebel. Its trunk bends into wind.

Strictly speaking, the palm is growing towards the light (phototropism) not the wind, but since they grow best at the edge of tropical islands, the effect is the same, as most coastline trees are exposed to strongest winds from the sea.

Why does it do this? It is a bit odd for a tree to grow in a way that makes it more exposed and more vulnerable to storms from the sea.

There is a good reason. The palm tree needs to drop its seed, the coconut, as close to the water as possible. Many seeds are carried by wind or animals, but coconuts are taken to start a new life elsewhere, often on another island, by sea currents.

Besides, coconut palms are very sturdy individuals. It takes an extraordinarily strong wind to threaten them. A gale will shake some coconuts out of the tree, but is unlikely to tug hard enough at the roots to cause any problems. A storm will flatten a lot of other species before troubling the tough palm.

It is very likely you know where the sea is already if you can see coconut palms, but if not, remember they grow towards the light, usually the open skies of the ocean and away from the darkness of other trees.

If you look closely, you’ll actually notice that the main trunk leans towards the sea, but the very top bends back slightly towards the land. This is the result of the light and wind working in opposite directions. The top of the tree bears the brunt of the strongest winds.

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