Coconuts: The Literal Fruit Assassin

palm-1824505_960_720***ATTENTION EVERYONE***

Please use extreme caution when resting in the shade of a tree. Especially if it’s a palm tree. Over a dozen people have died from coconuts falling out of trees and hitting them in the head. These are documented cases including a baby in Hawaii while getting a diaper change,1 a mourner at a funeral in Sri Lanka,2 and multiple cases observed by Dr. Peter Barss in Papua New Guinea.3

There is an inaccurate statistic floating around that 150 people per year are killed by falling coconuts. While the number of documented cases is not even close to 150 in total, it is worth noting the methodology used to reach that number. As referenced earlier, Dr. Peter Barss released a paper titled “Injuries Due to Falling Coconuts”. This paper showed roughly 2.5% of hospital trauma admissions in Papua New Guinea in from 1980 – 1984 were from falling coconuts with 2 fatalities.3 So, taking the population of Papua New Guinea in 1984 (3.5 million)4 over 4 years with 2 deaths, we get an instance of 1 death per 7 million people. The global population living in areas where the coconut palm grows (Indonesia, South India, Brazil, Philippines, Caribbean, Central America, Africa, Indochina and Pacific Islands) equates to about 1 billion based on the latest numbers from the United Nations.5 With an instance of one death per 7 million people we would have roughly 150 deaths annually. The problem with this calculation is the small sample size and limited geographical region from which the numbers were pulled from make it impossible to accurately extrapolate to the broader population around the globe.

While the 150 annual deaths estimate may not be accurate, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security! The many documented cases we do have prove coconuts are just waiting to rain down on unsuspecting victims. While not always lethal, serious injuries are often sustained as chronicled in the Solomon Islands by Mulford JS, Oberli H, and Tovosia S.  Their findings revealed a total of 3.4% of all injuries presenting to the surgical department were related to the coconut palm.6

Coconuts have also been used as makeshift bombs during WWII,7 were responsible for killing a whale,8 and the oil from coconuts killed factory worker who fell into a vat and drowned.9 When the coconuts can’t get the job done by themselves, the whole tree decides to get involved. In two unrelated incidents, a simple boatman out for a ride on his motorcycle,10 and a CEO taking morning walk were both killed after an entire coconut palm decided to topple over directly on top of them!11

Despite many individuals believing coconut palms are harmless, the preponderance of evidence proves they are lethal and should be avoided at all costs. It’s a dangerous world out there!

On a lighter note, coconut palms are just one of over 2,600 species of Arecaceae (the scientific name for palm trees). So not all palm trees want to kill/injure humans! Other classifications grow dates, acai, stone fruit, and much more. How neat!

KNOWLEDGE IS POWER!

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  1. Reading Eagle Sunday – July 29th, 1973 “Coconut Shower Fatal To Infant” https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=x4ktAAAAIBAJ&sjid=WJoFAAAAIBAJ&pg=4533,4347611&dq=coconut+falling+-grove&hl=en []
  2. New Straits Times – Nov 19, 1991 “Coconut Kills Mourner” https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=zmJPAAAAIBAJ&sjid=OJADAAAAIBAJ&pg=4664,1550423&dq=died+coconut&hl=en []
  3. Injuries due to falling coconuts. by Barss P. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6502774 [] []
  4. World Bank Data https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=PG []
  5. World Population Prospects The 2015 Revision Key Findings and Advance Tables released by the United Nations https://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Publications/Files/Key_Findings_WPP_2015.pdf []
  6. “Coconut palm-related injuries in the Pacific Islands” Mulford JS, Oberli H, and Tovosia S. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11167595 []
  7. The Evening Independent – Dec 20, 1944 “Coconut Bomb” Used By Japs in Battle on Leyte https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=t_ZPAAAAIBAJ&sjid=F1UDAAAAIBAJ&pg=6411,2444009&dq=coconut+japanese&hl=en []
  8. Sarasota Herald-Tribune – Apr 30, 1983 Coconut Blamed in Whales Death https://news.google.com/newspapers?id=vuQbAAAAIBAJ&sjid=a2gEAAAAIBAJ&pg=3209,8119697&dq=coconut+whale+death&hl=en []
  9. The Victoria Advocate – May 21, 1997 Coconut Oil Death https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=861&dat=19970521&id=BDMKAAAAIBAJ&sjid=IUsDAAAAIBAJ&pg=2074,4092633 []
  10. The Star – Thursday, Aug 11, 2011 “Falling coconut tree kills 56-year-old boatman” http://news.asiaone.com/News/AsiaOne+News/Malaysia/Story/A1Story20110811-293850.html []
  11. The Times of India – “Tree falls, kills Mumbai equity firm CEO” https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/Tree-falls-kills-Mumbai-equity-firm-CEO/articleshow/9740245.cms []

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