Review by Susan Milius
A single coco-de-mer, the largest known seed, can weigh 23 kilograms, as much as an airline passenger’s checked luggage, writes Jonathan Silvertown, an ecologist at the Open University in Milton Keynes, England.
What drove the coco-de-mer palm to such extreme nuttiness is just one of the evolutionary puzzles Silvertown discusses in An Orchard Invisible. The book tours the marvels of plant seeds, standing out among others on the subject by emphasizing how the weird and the wonderful have evolved.
Since the coco-de-mer can’t float, extra provisions for sustaining the plant embryo during dispersal by sea didn’t drive the gigantism. Instead, an ancient climate shift ignited a fight for height, Silvertown explains. Most other tree trunks grow out as they grow up, ensuring stability. But palms can’t thicken their trunks throughout life. To soar as a structurally sound adult, a palm has to thicken as a youth, and bigger well-provisioned s