Jan 11, 2016

"Coconut bonzai": reducing the vertical growth of Tall-type coconut palms

A traditional practice from farmers of the Mekong Delta

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In 1998, in the framework of an expertise on collecting strategies (Bourdeix et al, 1999[i]), the island of Hung Phong (01008N 10622E) in Mekong Delta was visited. While interacting with farmers, it appeared that what farmers called “Dwarf’ and “Tall” coconut palms did not fit with what was described in all other countries. More precisely, some coconut palms described by farmers as “Tall-types” had the typical stem of what is normally called “Dwarf”: a thin stem without any basal bulb, and very short internodes.
We finally find an explanation (see fig. 1 and 2). In this island, farmers had a very special traditional practice, never described before (as far as we know).  

Figure 1. View of different coconut stems. From left to right: Malayan Dwarf, Compact Dwarf, Indo-Atlantic Tall, Asian-Pacific Tall types of coconut varieties (Photos R. Bourdeix, Côte d’Ivoire).
When 2 years old, the young tall coconut palm is removed from the ground, its roots and leaves are cut and, after that, the palm is planted again in the ground. Such palm will develop stem similar to those of Dwarf cultivars: no bole, very short internode distance and slow vertical growth. Farmers said that this practice causes a delay of about one year on the starting of production but does not affect the future performance of the palms.

Figure 2. View of different coconut stems in Mekong Delta. Normal stem of a Tall-type coconut palm (left) in comparison with same variety treated for reducing growth (Photo R. Bourdeix, Vietnam).

It could be very useful to to scientifically assess this traditional practice, for both extending the lifespan of accessions in ex situ Coconut field genebanks, and for proposing a new ways of cultivation making harvest and field management more convenient and safe.

[i] Bourdeix, R., Baudouin, L., Ollivier, J., Labouisse, J.-P., 1999. COGENT consultancy report on coconut collecting strategy. CIRAD. Montpellier, France,