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Massive Miracle Seeds Grow in Terrible Conditions, But How?

Feb 09, 2015 04:47 PM EST
coco de mer female
(Photo : Flickr: David Stanley)

Unless you live among a chain of islands in the Indian Ocean, you've probably never seen the seeds of the coco de mer palm. Impressively massive, these 55-pound seeds are literally the stuff of legend, with locals telling numerous folklores about how they came to be and how they can boast miraculous healing powers.

And while these seeds are not actually magical, they are indeed miraculous. That's because they grow to their impressive size - nearly a foot-and-a half in diameter - even while situated in exceptionally dry and nutrition-starved soil.

Now, according to a study recently published in the journal New Phytologistresearchers believe they have determined how this seemingly impossible natural phenomenon occurs.

Researcher Peter Edwards, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) at Zurich, Frauke Fleischer-Dogley, from the Seychelles Islands Foundation, and Christopher Kaiser-Bunbury at the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany recently traveled to the island of Parslin in the Seychelles archipelago to see the coco de mer palm for themselves.

They quickly found that these trees will actually sap their leaves of all their valuable nutrients before shedding them, recycling this invaluable resource in order to invest more heavily in seed and fruit production.

Stephen Blackmore at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the study, recently told New Scientist that the palm also is well known for its exquisitely shaped leaves - capable of funneling what little rain the islands get into the parched soild that holds its roots.

Now this latest study reveals that a great deal of the plant's nutrients also come from the surface of these leaves, where collected pollen, bird feces, etc. are washed with the rain into the palm's poor soil.

"To think about [the palm leaves] in terms not just of water flow but of nutrients was a very significant leap of thinking and adds much to the understanding of this amazing tree," Blackmore said.

The researchers also found one more surprising thing, determining that unlike most plants, these palms are not selfish about their nutrients. Most tree species have found ways to widely distribute their seeds to ensure that fresh saplings don't grow too closely, taking a soil's limited nutrients for themselves.

In the case of this already starving palm, however, it seems to want its seedlings to fall right next to it, so that they can share in what little food is collected and grow stronger. The experts admit in the study that they don't know of any other tree that 'nurtures its young,' so to speak, in such a way.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

- follow Brian on Twitter @BS_ButNoBS.

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