Page last updated at 12:13 GMT, Monday, 21 April 2008 13:13 UK

Rare coconut tree on sale for $1m

By John James
BBC News, Abidjan

The three headed palm tree
No buyers have come forward for the tree

Scientists in Ivory Coast are trying to sell a rare multi-headed coconut tree for a million dollars.

They have yet to find a buyer. Most coconut palms have a single trunk and head - this one has three heads.

"It is a rare botanical curiosity", says Dr Roland Bourdeix, who works with the Marc Delorme coconut research station outside Abidjan.

"We have 150,000 palm trees in this research plantation and there is only one which has three heads like this."

Such branching is sometimes a result of an insect attack or falling palm frond, but in this case there are no signs of damage, meaning the branching could be genetic.

This palm was imported from Malaysia about 40 years ago.

"We are going to multiply the tree about 150 times to see if the progeny have three or even four heads."

It will take 20 years to find out.

Moving a million dollar palm

Dr Bourdeix says moving the palm to the home of a potential buyer should not be a problem.

"Last year I was in French Polynesia and some people took very high coconut palms to plant in their private islands, so I think it is possible to move it - not very easy - but it is possible."

A worker at the research plantation
The research plantation is short of funds following the civil war

The tree is on the market to raise money for further research.

The Marc Delorme research station, which dates back to 1949, is one of the most important of its kind in the world but has struggled to keep going during the Ivorian civil war.

"We need funding for researchers," says research head Dr Jean-Louis Konan.

"We carry out many research activities and provide hybrids for farmers in order to develop the coconut sector in the world."

The three-headed palm tree produces more than 150 large fruit a year, as opposed to the normal 30-80 coconuts.


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