on-line contest

What's New

Most Popular


Story and photos by

Coco-de-mer Seychelles passport stamps
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Why is Praslin, the second-largest island in The Seychelles, reputed to be the location of the Garden of Eden? We had a big hint when the Immigration & Customs officer stamped our passports as we entered the Indian Ocean archipelago.

After he handed them back to us, we glanced at the stamps and blushed. Our eyes focused on the outline of a female's buttocks. "Welcome to the Seychelles," he said with a smile.

Forbidden fruit

The passport image depicted the coco-de-mer, the Garden of Eden's forbidden fruit that we would soon view on Praslin. The suggestively shaped seed grows inside the fruit of a palm tree which is endemic to only two islands in the world — Praslin and Curieuse.

Praslin is a 45-minute ferry ride northeast of Mahé, where we arrived after a flight on Air Seychelles from Paris. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, Praslin's Jurassic-like Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve protects more than 6,000 mature and juvenile coco-de-mer trees.

Primeval nature reserve

Their palm leaves, the size of schooner sails, dwarfed us. It was easy to imagine a Brachiosaurus munching the greenery. We felt as if we were ants, scrambling beneath fan-shaped palm fronds hovering as high as 10-storey apartment buildings.

Walking through Vallée de Mai
Walking through Vallée de Mai
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The trees reach maturity after 20 to 40 years. Female palms grow up to 24 meters high, while males can reach 30 meters. They can live for 200 to 400 years.

World's largest seed

"The female palms produce the largest seeds in the world," said our guide, Karina. She stood behind a table displaying a double-cheeked seed as large as her pelvis. "They can weigh more than 20 kilograms."

Coco-de-mer catkin and seed
Coco-de-mer catkin and seed
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Some of the seeds sported tufts of curly hair — exactly where you'd expect them. We felt compelled to cover them with fig leaves.

The Seychelles climate is conducive to wearing little more than strategically placed fig leaves, with year-round temperatures ranging between 24- and 32-degrees Celsius.

Suggestively shaped

In her hand, Karina held an elongated brown male catkin. "It dangles stiffly in the breeze to dispense its pollen. Afterward, it falls to the ground as an empty fibrous shell," she explained.

Someone in our tour group snickered. A woman elbowed her husband's ribs. "I don't mean to be naughty," said Karina. The resulting laughter alleviated the collective embarrassment.

The seed's resemblance to human anatomy didn't go unnoticed by 16th-century sailors who saw it floating in the Indian Ocean. They assumed that the fruit grew on an underwater palm, so they named it coco-de-mer or sea coconut.

Royal aphrodisiac

In the Late Medieval Period, European rulers coveted the erotically shaped seeds. They believed that the jelly inside the young fruits had aphrodisiac powers.

After eating it, they made the hard shells into drinking cups, decorated with gold and silver. History books state that, in the 16th century, Hapsburg Emperor Rudolf II offered 4,000 gold florins for a single seed.

Strong female coco-de-mer palm holds fruits weighing up to 20 kg each
Strong female coco-de-mer palm holds
fruits weighing up to 20 kg each
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Protected fruit

"It's illegal to eat the flesh now, because it kills the fruit and it never matures," said Karina. "The jelly hardens after 10 months. Seeds need six-to-seven years to ripen inside the fruit."

Coco-de-mer palms don't grow trunks until they're 15 years old. By then, the palm fronds are taller than hydro poles. As we looked up to the tops of mature palms, we realized their incredible strength. Some carried more than 20 fruits.

"Have any fruits ever fallen on people?" we asked, suddenly aware of the explosive impact of 20-kilogram shells falling from such heights.

"None have fallen on anyone's head since 1966 when the nature reserve opened," said Karina. "If our rangers see any fruits above the trail, they'll remove them." We resolved to stay on the red soil path.

Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Tree of Knowledge

In 1881, General Gordon of Khartoum proclaimed that the site was the biblical Garden of Eden, and that the coco-de-mer was the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge that seduced Adam and Eve. (If the voluptuously shaped fruit was Adam's apple, Gordon didn't explain how he bit through the thick, hard shell.)

In addition to its coco-de-mer palms, Vallée de Mai is a haven for other endemic palms and trees. We examined a large fruit with green pebbly skin growing from a tree trunk. "It's a jackfruit," said Karina. "It tastes like a combination of mango and banana."

Buying coco-de-mer seeds

Near the end of our 90-minute walk, it began to rain. The coco-de-mer palm canopy above us was so dense that we didn't get wet. The downpour sounded like raindrops hitting a tin roof.

"To prevent poaching and counterfeit sales, the government now issues export permits to sell only coco-de-mer seeds identified by holographic tags," said Karina. "Be prepared to pay a hefty price, based on the size and quality — and keep in mind your luggage weight allowance."


Seychelles Tourism Board

More things to see and do in the Seychelles:

La Digue Seychelles Beach - Anse Source d'Argent

Seychelles Islands - Aldabra Giant Tortoise UNESCO Site