Drive through any resort area, golf course or public beach park in Hawaii and you’ll pass hundreds of coconut trees along the way. Look closely up at tops of these trees and you’ll become aware of a sad irony - between all these coconut trees, there is hardly a single edible coconut to be found.
Fear of falling coconuts and the potential lawsuits that could follow force the owners of these unlucky trees to subject them to what we call “neutering”. Two or three times a year the trees are climbed, the reproductive features (flowers and emerging flower pods) are removed along with the lower and middle fronds, eliminating for a short-while, the possibility of coconuts growing. Stripped of their dignity these majestic plants end up looking less like coconut trees and more like toothpicks with pineapple tops.
Author on one of the last coconut trees he "neutered".
So common is this practice that most visitors to Hawaii won't see a coconut tree in its natural state during their entire stay. Unaware of the sham, the public has grown to assume this is simply how coconut trees look. The image is printed on popular surf brand t-shirts, appears on trendy clutches and in the feeds of Hawaii based influencers. The irony reaches its zenith on the forearms, calves and wrists of millennials who swept up in the trend, have tattooed the image of fruitless palms on their bodies. Meant to be a badge of honor earned by well traveled wanderlusters, the fruitless palms are actually the symbol of corporate liability.
The “hotel trim”, as coconut tree climbers call it, has an ironic effect on the tree as well. The constant hacking off of the tree’s middle fronds compromises its ability to photosynthesize, resulting in a narrowing of the trunk, making them more likely to snap in heavy winds. Neutering is also quite expensive, costing $50 - $100, two or three times per year, which adds up to around $12,000 dollars over a forty year lifetime.
The harvesting process.
Why then do resorts and homeowners continue to plant coconut palms over parking lots, walkways and pool houses? Partially because they are exceptionally hardy, drought tolerant and other than bad haircuts, they require no input. But more than this coconut trees dotting the skyline, swaying in the wind have come to represent the tropics. Hawaii wont be Hawaii without coconut trees and even mutilated & tamed down they inspire awe.