From the rear, a coco de mer seed is the fruit equivalent of a belfie. Frontally, it’s a life-size replica of a woman’s reproductive region, including thigh tops, an exposed belly, and a pudendal cleft. It even has a landing strip of pubes crowning the V. Other names for it include the lady fruit and the butt nut. Scientists use the taxonomic binomial Lodoicea maldivica. Whatever you call it, it’s the Kim Kardashian of the plant kingdom.
Beyond its ass-shaped nutshell, the coco de mer shares other commonalities with our anatomy (or at least that of porn stars). Not only is the male flower a huge brown phallic rod; the female blossoms are simulacra of DD+ breasts, each with its own nectarlactating nipple-like ovule. There’s a spermy white pudding inside the seed that hardens as the fruit ages. Its exterior green husk has the shape of a heart. The seed’s interior resembles kidneys. After a coco de mer falls to the ground, it sends out a freaky fingerlike umbilical cord from its vaginal orifice. These botanical butt cheeks grow only in the Seychelles, a tiny archipelago in the Indian Ocean. Before anyone knew the Seychelles existed, the fruit’s shell was periodically found floating in the sea like a wet dream, leading to speculation that it grew underwater (hence the name coco de mer, or coconut of the sea).
The shells remain luxury goods today. They can be legally purchased at official outlets in the Seychelles for a price between $200 and $1,000 per nut. The rate depends on the size and the appearance; like humans, no two are alike. Some are flat and supermodelsvelte; others are more Sir Mix-a-Lot–style, rounder and bigger-bottomed, with “much back.” The shells can also be bought illegally on the black market. Concerns that the fruit could become endangered have gotten it classified as an endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List. Fortunately, a serious preservation program is under way.
While working on my book about the world of fruits, The Fruit Hunters, I traveled to the Seychelles to learn more about the coco de mer and its callipygian qualities. Here’s what I discovered about the plant’s most humanoid traits.
Coco de mer trees are either male or female. The male flower, called a catkin, looks like a dick, with some appearing more erect than others. When young, this phallic inflorescence is one or two feet long, orange-brown, and points stiffly upward. Pollen from these stamens fertilizes the hefty breast-like female flowers—which have a moist ovule positioned precisely where you’d expect the nipple to be. After pollination, the woody female breast-blossoms swell into bubblebutted fruits as the spent catkin wilts and sags, becoming increasingly dark and shriveled, until it falls to the forest floor with a dank, damp thud.
High on the branches of a coco de mer palm, the medicine-ball-size fruits look like big green hearts swaying overhead. At maturity, they fall to the ground and crack open upon impact. Within the heart-shaped box is the seed shell that so strangely resembles the female pelvic region. If left undisturbed, this seed becomes the beginning of a new tree. After it lands, an umbilical cord (cotyledon) starts to emerge from the fruit’s central slit. The germ of the baby plant is located in the cotelydon’s swollen tip. This cord slowly plunges into the earth and then travels up to 65 feet away. After burrowing in a spot where it won’t have to fight for root space with its parent, this heat-seeking embryonic cable gradually sprouts from the ground. The first leaves emerge, and pretty soon a bonerific new tree starts growing skyward.
After pollination of the flower, it takes seven years for a fruit to mature. When very young, the nuts are yellowish and contain a semen-like liquid. A year or so later, at the peak of edibility, that goo gels into a thickened custard-like consistency. By the time the fruit drops, its jelly has congealed into a hard vegetable ivory, which can be extracted and blended into face-whitening creams or added to cough syrups. This ivory also has purported aphrodisiacal properties, a notion that the Seychellois historian and environmentalist Kantilal Jivan-Shah debunked when I interviewed him. “It’s all in the mind,” he scoffed. “The dried kernel irritates your bladder so you’ll have an erection.” Far more interesting, in terms of edibility, is a one-year-old fruit. Until the 1970s, distinguished visitors were sometimes honored with a taste of this translucent jelly, then known as the billionaire’s fruit because of its rarity. These days, you can’t legally purchase the fruit; the only noncriminal way to try it is to know someone with a tree in his backyard who is willing to share it with you. How does it taste? Some Seychellois residents swear it’s like mother’s milk, straight from the breast.
This article is featured in the January Issue of VICE.
Join Captain Will Benson of Key West, Florida
January 13th / Tuesday
6:00-8:00pm at Urban Angler NY
This post was co-authored with Elizabeth Brown.
Starting January 1, fishing within two bluefin tuna breeding hotspots in the Gulf of Mexico with a particularly destructive kind of fishing gear during their peak breeding months (April-May) will be prohibited by federal rule. The technique uses fishing lines up to 40 miles long with hundreds of baited hooks. It’s called long-lining. Finally, half a century after this method was used to invade their breeding grounds and deplete them to remnants of their former abundance, bluefin tuna that come to the Gulf of Mexico to breed will have a safe haven. The new rule will also prohibit longline fishing for five months (Dec.-April) in an area off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina where bluefin gather to feed.
Ironically, intentional fishing for Atlantic bluefin tuna with longline gear has been prohibited in the U.S. for years. Despite this, bluefin tuna have continued getting caught by longline fishing gear. Fishermen use longlines to catch yellowfin tuna and swordfish. But the gear is very indiscriminate, incidentally catching high number of bluefin each year and many other non-target species (sharks, sea turtles, marlins).
Longline fishermen catch much of this bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Mexico, where bluefin have come to breed, and in a few other hotspot areas where bluefin gather at certain times of the year. This incidental catch has contributed to the decline of this species. And it is particularly harmful in the Gulf of Mexico, because the Gulf is their only known breeding area on our side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Fishermen have been allowed to keep and sell some bluefin tuna, but must discard many of the bluefin they catch back to sea, though they come up dead — a giant, unnecessary waste of a magnificent fish. If left alone in the wild, bluefin tuna can grow to the size of a small car. They are also one of the fastest and deepest diving fish in the sea.
To solve this problem, fishery managers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), along with scientists, conservationists, and fishermen have been working together for years to develop measures that will protect bluefin tuna, while still allowing for other fishing opportunities. Many of you have also written to NOAA and weighed in. Thanks to this hard work, we now have a final rule that will provide strong protection for Atlantic bluefin tuna.
Additionally, the new rule puts a limit or cap on the amount of bluefin tuna longline fishermen can kill each year. Once their fishery reaches its limit, all boats involved in U.S. long-lining will have to stop fishing. And to ensure all bluefin tuna catch is accurately recorded and accounted for, all longline fishing vessels must have video monitoring systems.
Together these measures will greatly reduce the amount of bluefin tuna killed each year. The new rule creates a strong incentive for longline fishermen to avoid bluefin all-together. It should also encourage fishermen to switch to more selective fishing gears that catch fewer bluefin and non-target species.
The new rule is a big step in the right direction for Atlantic bluefin tuna and a great victory. But there is still more to do. Because of a long history of overfishing, Atlantic bluefin tuna remain at a low abundance compared to their historical numbers, and full recovery requires international collaboration. Still, the situation for Atlantic bluefin tuna will be much improved in 2015!