Dwarf-type varieties

By R. Bourdeix
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Traditional coconut varieties are generally classified in four main types: 
  • Tall-types, which represents 90 to 95 % of all existing coconut palms. They are often called simply “Talls”. They generally form quite heterogeneous cross-pollinating populations. Talls can grow at a rate of more than 50 cm annually when young and flower at 6-10 years with an economic life span of 60-70 years. 
  • Preferentially Self-pollinating Dwarf-types. They are often called Dwarfs, Fragile Dwarfs or Malayan-Type Dwarfs, because the Malayan Red and Yellow Dwarfs are the most widely known cultivars of this group. They grow at a rate of 15 to 30 cm annually, have a productive life span of 30-40 years and usually start flowering 12 to 30 months after field planting. Apart from their usually short height, these varieties show a combination of common characteristics: autogamic preference, small size of organs, precocity, and rapid emission of inflorescences. Because of the last two characteristics, they play an important role in genetic improvement programs. 
  • Preferentially Cross-pollinating Compact Dwarf-types are generally called simply Compact Dwarfs or Niu Leka-type Dwarfs (because the Niu Leka Dwarf from Fiji is the most widely known cultivar of this type). This type of dwarf coconut, with short thick stem and wide leaflets, is much rarer and mainly found in the Pacific region. 
  • A few intermediate forms called Semi-Tall types, intermediate between Dwarfs and Talls, with variable reproduction modes. The most famous is the King Coconut cultivar from Sri Lanka, self-pollinating and producing bright orange pointed fruits.
Until recently Dwarf coconut palms were mostly used in the gardens of houses, planted for their decorative value and the sweetness of their young, tender drinking nuts. They differ from Tall-type coconut palms through earlier flowering, slower vertical growth, a tendency towards self-pollination, and higher susceptibility to drought and insect attacks. The first fruits produced by Dwarf coconut palms often hang to the ground
Brazil and other countries like India, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam recently developed very large and profitable plantations of Dwarfs for coconut water production. Two varieties are mainly used, the Brazilian Green Dwarf (very sweet water) and the Aromatic Green Dwarf (special perfumed flavor of the water).
The coconut stem is relatively smooth and pale in colour, with regular markings: each frond produced by the palm leaves a crescent-shaped leaf scar. It is possible to distinguish between the two types of coconut palm, Talls and Dwarfs, by the gaps between the scars. In Tall palms, the gap between two leaf scars is more than 5 cm, whereas it does not exceed 2.5 cm in Dwarfs. Dwarf coconuts varieties are the easiest to identify. Each variety described is fairly uniform and has particular features that help to distinguish it from other Dwarf varieties.
Each variety is given a unique international name. The name, in English, usualy consists of the type, Dwarf or Tall, to which a geographical or cultural reference is added. For varieties of uniform colour, that too is usually mentioned. One thus finds Malayan Yellow Dwarf and Madang Brown Dwarf (Madang is a town in Papua New Guinea).