by Diana Lutz
A chef wearing avocado sunscreen holds a sweet nui vai coconut. The photo was taken in the Masoala Peninsula of Madagascar by plant biologist Bee Gunn while she was collecting coconut leaf tissue for DNA analysis.The DNA of the Madagascar coconuts turned out to be particularly interesting, preserving, as it did, news of the arrival of ancient Austronesians at the island off Africa. IMage courtesy Bee Gunn/National Geographic Society.
Before the DNA era, biologists recognized a domesticated plant by its morphology. In the case of grains, for example, one of the most important traits in domestication is the loss of shattering, or the tendency of seeds to break off the central grain stalk once mature.
Dwarf coconuts. Dwarfing suggests domestication, but only 5 percent of the world's coconuts have the dwarf form. "Quite often the niu vai fruit are brightly colored when they're unripe, either bright green, or bright yellow. Sometimes they're a beautiful gold with reddish tones," says Olsen.
One exception to the general Pacific/Indian Ocean split is the western Indian Ocean, specifically