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Last Updated: Friday, 15 August, 2003, 11:28 GMT 12:28 UK
Excitement as 'erotic' seed sprouts
Fiona Inches with Coco de Mer seed
Fiona Inches and her team are growing the seed
Experts at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh are celebrating after successfully germinating the world's largest seed.

The Coco de Mer - which is produced by a palm tree found in the Seychelles - is as heavy as eight bags of sugar and notoriously difficult to cultivate.

Horticulturists in Edinburgh received the gift from the Victoria Botanic garden in the Seychelles in April.

Fiona Inches, who is responsible for growing the seed, said her team had hoped to see some results in about 18 months.

"Here we are four months down the line and we have got this emerging shoot, which is about 10 centimetres long at the moment," she told BBC Scotland.

She said this could reach four metres in length before it found a spot to develop roots and shoot.

If all goes well the new plant should put out its first leaf within a year.

It could produce fruit in 30 years' time and the palm could live for up to 300 years.

Closed environment

The seed, which weighs 16kg, is being cared for in a dark case in the garden's tropical propagation area.

"We are trying to simulate the climate in the Seychelles, so we are giving it a closed environment with temperatures of 25C," explained Ms Inches.

"We have covered it in moss to keep the humidity round the fruit."

You can imagine the sense of excitement that we are now nurturing it
Alan Bennell
Royal Botanic Garden
Alan Bennell, the deputy director of public programmes, said the Coco de Mer was the biggest seed in the world.

"To get them to come to life is a matter of some very exclusive techniques of nurture, for which there is a great tribute to our horticulturists," he said.

For centuries the Coconut of the Sea - or Lodoicea maldivica - was thought to be produced by a giant palm tree growing under the sea.

It was only ever found floating or washed up on beaches round the Indian Ocean.

In medieval times the seed was thought to possess aphrodisiac properties.

Coco de Mer seed
The shoot is about 10 centimetres long
The creamy white meat was also revered as an antidote to poisons.

Mr Bennell described the seeds as "erotic and gross and wonderfully suggestive".

He said that the palm was only found growing naturally in two valleys in the Seychelles.

"You can imagine the sense of excitement that we are now nurturing it," he added.

The true origins of the Coco de Mer were not discovered until 1768, when Marion Dufresne found the palm it growing in deep valleys on Praslin.

The Valle de Mai National Park was designated a World Heritage site in 1983.


WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC Scotland's Huw Williams
"They are sensual, some would says suggestive, shapes and they are definitely female""



SEE ALSO:
Seychelles under threat
29 Sep 01  |  From Our Own Correspondent


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