Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 25.djvu/60

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52
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

for household use in the tropics, the shell hasn't yet solidified into a hard, stony coat, but still remains quite soft enough to be readily cut through with a sharp table-knife—just like young walnuts picked for pickling. If you cut one across while it's in this unsophisticated state, it is easy enough to see the arrangement of the interior, and the part borne by the milk in the development and growth of the mature nut. The ordinary tropical way of opening cocoa-nuts for table, indeed, is by cutting off the top of the shell and rind in successive slices, at the end where the three pores are situated, until you reach the level of the water, which fills up the whole interior. The nutty part around the inside of the shell is then extremely soft and jelly-like, so that it can be readily eaten with a spoon: but as a matter of fact very few people ever do eat the flesh at all. After their first few months in the tropics, they lose the taste for this comparatively indigestible part, and confine themselves entirely (like patients at a German spa) to drinking the water. A young cocoa-nut is thus seen to consist, first of a green outer skin, then of a fibrous coat, which afterward becomes the hair, and next of a harder shell which finally gets quite woody; while inside all comes the actual seed or unripe nut itself. The office of the cocoa-nut water is the deposition of the nutty part around the side of the shell; it is, so to speak, the mother-liquid, from which the harder eatable portion is afterward derived. This state is not uncommon in embryo seeds. In a very young pea, for example, the inside is quite watery, and only the outer skin is at all solid, as we have all observed when green peas first come into season. But the special peculiarity of the cocoa-nut consists in the fact that this liquid condition of the interior continues even after the nut is ripe, and that is the really curious point about the milk in the cocoa-nut which does actually need accounting for.

In order to understand it one ought to examine a cocoa-nut in the act of budding, and to do this it is by no means necessary to visit the West Indies or the Pacific Islands; all you need to do is to ask a Covent Garden fruit-salesman to get you a few "growers." On the voyage to England, a certain number of precocious cocoa-nuts, stimulated by the congenial warmth and damp of most ship-holds, usually begin to sprout before their time; and these waste nuts are sold by the dealers at a low rate to East End children and inquiring botanists. An examination of a "grower" very soon convinces one what is the use of the milk in the cocoa-nut.

It must be duly bone in mind, to begin with, that the prime end and object of the nut is not to be eaten raw by the ingenious monkey, or to be converted by lordly man into cocoa-nut biscuits, or cocoa-nut pudding, but simply and solely to reproduce the cocoa-nut palm in sufficient numbers to future generations. For this purpose the nut has slowly acquired by natural selection a number of protective defenses against its numerous enemies, which serve to guard it admira-