The presence of coconut in southern Panama in pre-Columbian times: Clearing up the confusion

Luc Baudouin, Bee F. Gunn, Kenneth M. Olsen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


BackgroundThe pre-Columbian presence of coconut on the Pacific coast of Panama is attested by a number of independent written accounts. However, recent papers question their accuracy and conclude that coconut was introduced to the region by the Spaniards after their conquests.ScopeIn order to examine the value of such claims, an extensive search was conducted of the relevant historical accounts of coconut in America and in the Orient.Key ResultsThe Spanish chronicler Oviedo (1478-1557) is found to have effectively used fruit and seed size to distinguish coconut from other palms. In addition, it is shown that he has been inaccurately faulted with incorrectly representing a cluster of coconuts. The original drawing, a cluster of a native Bactris, was in the marginalia and was only assigned to coconut after Oviedo's death. Finally, the location is identified of a coastal Panamanian site described by Pedro Mártir de Anglería and where tidal dispersal of coconuts was observed.ConclusionsThis previously overlooked evidence confirms the pre-historical presence of coconut in Panama. Genetic data indicate that it must have been brought there directly or indirectly from the Philippines. But when, where and by whom remains a subject of research. Further molecular marker studies, computer simulation of natural drift and archaeological research could contribute to this research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-5
Number of pages5
JournalAnnals of Botany
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014


  • Central America
  • Coconut
  • Cocos nucifera
  • early trans-Pacific voyaging
  • New World flora
  • oceanic current dissemination
  • Panama
  • Spanish explorations


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