Australians have long been enamoured by the idea of a tropical paradise, with many gardeners attempting to recreate a jungle by planting palm trees and bromeliads in their own backyards. Back in the last century, the palm of choice was the cocos or queen palm, selected for its fast-growing, hardy qualities. Plant a row of these, and you’ll be swinging in a hammock in just a couple of years!

Now we know that the cocos palm is a nuisance. A native of South America, it is spread by fruitbats that noisily suck on its seeds and then poop orange splats onto the nicest cars in the neighbourhood. The seeds that aren’t eaten fall to the ground and collect around the base of the trunk. Hundreds of them. Thousands, even.

Then there’s its untidy habit. The cocos palm is not self-cleaning — it doesn’t drop its dead branches. Instead, they turn brown and slowly collapse against the trunk, an ugly reminder that yes, they do grow fast — so fast that they’ve now outgrown your tallest ladder.

Cocos palm, Queensland, October 2008
A stalk of flowers is still wrapped in two thick, pointed bracts on the right of the tree.

We’ve cut down a couple of these beasts from our yard, but I have one that is still a manageable height. Because David had the ladders out, I took the opportunity to climb up the trunk and prune the dead branches and cut off the flower bracts before they seeded. (Last time I did this, I was bumpy with pregnancy — so it may have been just under a year ago.)

When I got the bracts down, I was fascinated by how the flowers were developing. I can imagine that when the girls are older, a science lesson will follow today’s pruning activity.

Cocos palm, immature flowers inside the bract.
When I cut open the bract, I could see the immature flowerheads on their stalks.

Cocos palm, Queensland, October 2008
By sliding the bract off the stalk, the form of the flowers (and later, the seeds) is revealed.

Cocos palm, Queensland, October 2008
Examining the flowers with Aisha. The girls weren't nearly as interested as I was. (But give them time.)

Brioni, 2yo, October 2008
The open bract made a wonderful canoe for Brioni (eating our homegrown strawberries) and friends.