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20. Disclaimer: Authenticity Of Coconut Pearls
© W.P. Armstrong (Updated 21 February 2012)
If you see "coconut pearls" for sale over the Internet, please be advised of their authenticity.
Although they may make a very unusual and attractive gift, it is highly unlikely that they were
produced inside of a coconut.  In fact, they may have originated from a giant Tridacna clam.

More Information About Coconut Pearls On Wayne's Word

The famous "Maharajah coconut pearl" sitting in the shell of a coconut. This alleged botanical jewel was on display at the Fairchild Tropical Garden in the city of Coral Gables, Florida. This "pearl" originally given to Dr. Fairchild in 1940 was not in its original coconut, so there is serious doubt as to its authenticity.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and the proof of authentic pearls from coconuts is lacking. This is certainly true of calcareous pearls made of aragonite. Some so-called coconut pearls are really pearls of giant clams or another mollusk. Whether coconuts occasionally contain hard objects of unknown structure and origin may still be open for discussion. The meticulous writings of naturalists such as Georg Eberhard Rumphius indicate that calcareous coconut pearls are real; however, these naturalists did not see the original "blind coconuts" from which the pearls were extracted. If blind coconuts were the property of the Radja, then there should be records of these coconuts producing "coconut pearls." The pearl apparently develops in the embryonic region of the coconut, but there is no explanation for how such a smooth, spherical or oblong calcareous structure could be formed. In mollusks, a pearl is often produced when a foreign object becomes lodged between the shell and outer flesh (mantle) of a bivalve. Foreign objects can be naturally-occurring, or they may be induced, such as in cultured pearls of oysters. The mantle epidermis responds by encapsulating the object within thin concentric layers of aragonite, a form of calcium carbonate known as nacre or mother-of-pearl. Aragonite has unique optical properties that account for the light refraction and beautiful opalescence of nacre. A number of mollusks that do not produce commercially valuable pearls have iridescent nacreous layers lining their shells that are used to make mother-of-pearl jewelry.

Dried coconut fruit (Cocos nucifera): A. Seed-bearing endocarp with three germination pores at one end. Only one of the pores is functional and may be easily pierced by the developing embryo (or a needle). Blind coconuts (the alleged source of coconut pearls) do not have these distinct germination pores. B. Hardened, dried endosperm pulling away from the inner wall of the endocarp. This is cellular material composed of numerous fat globules. The outer brown layer covering the endosperm is the seed coat or testa. C. Coconut water, multinucleate liquid endosperm that has not developed into solid tissue composed of cells. It is incorrectly called "coconut milk" in some references. Before it forms solid "meat" it is jellylike and may be eaten with a spoon. This stage of endosperm development is called "spoon meat." True coconut milk used in Asian recipes is made by soaking grated coconut meat in water and squeezing out the oil-rich liquid. The saturated fat called coconut oil is derived from the meaty endosperm. D. The dried, one-seeded fruit of a coconut after it has fallen from the palm and turned brown. Technically, the fruit is known as a dry drupe because of the distinct out skin (exocarp), the thick fibrous husk (mesocarp), and the hard endocarp surrounding the seed. E. View inside the dried endocarp showing where a "coconut pearl' is supposedly found (red arrow). The "pearl" has penetrated the endocarp layer and extended into the fibrous husk. This position is similar to the "coconut pearl" offered to this author for $60,000 U.S. dollars (see next photo). Contrary to a number of secondhand references about blind coconuts, there is no scientific evidence for the occurrence of pearls inside coconuts. There is nothing inside a coconut that could metamorphose into an dense, spherical or oblong structure composed of aragonite. These structures are derived from pearls or shells of giant mollusks and were simply placed in the coconut as in this photograph.

A recent Internet image (December 2003) of a coconut pearl for sale in Singapore shows an oblong, opaque stone within a coconut; however, the "pearl" extends through the endocarp layer into the fibrous husk region. If coconut pearls develop within blind coconuts without functional germination pores, then how did this pearl grow and penetrate through the hard endocarp. Since the endocarp has clearly been sectioned and removed from the coconut, this pearl could have easily been inserted through an enlarged germination pore and into the husk. In addition, the photo shows faint parallel striations described by Reyne (1947) for Molluskan pearls. There is simply no adequate botanical explanation for the formation of a true, aragonite pearl inside of a coconut. Coconuts do not have calcium-forming tissues comparable with the mantle of mollusks.

An alleged coconut pearl in Singapore within the endocarp of a coconut.
Suggested price was $60,000 in December of 2003. Photo by N.M. Ngoi.

A true pearl that has formed inside a bivalved oyster. It is formed when a
foreign object becomes lodged between the shell and outer flesh (mantle).

Arguments For & Against The Existence Of Coconut Pearls
For Coconut Pearls
Against Coconut Pearls
 1. Coconut pearls are in collections at prestigious
      botanical gardens, such as Kew and Fairchild;
      therefore, they must be authentic.
 1. The coconut "pearls" are not intact inside
      the original coconuts, so they could be from
      another source, possibly a giant clam.
 2. The writings of famous, prestigious naturalists,
      such as Rumphius, describe coconut pearls in
      detail, including their calcareous properties.
 2. Writers did not see the pearls intact within
      their original coconuts. They did not know
      their exact chemical properties & structure.
 3. Photo by Mr. Ngoi shows a coconut pearl in its
      original endocarp and husk; therefore, it must
      be an authentic coconut pearl.
 3. If Mr. Ngoi's pearl is from a "blind coconut," 
      how did it extend through the endocarp into
      the fibrous husk (mesocarp)?
 4. Plants are able to produce intracellular crystals
      of calcium oxalate & carbonate, so they must
      able to produce calcareous coconut pearls.
 4. How could a large, smooth, calcareous stone
      form during the relatively short growth time
      of a coconut? Aragonite is from mollusks.  2
 5. Perhaps the coconut pearls are composed of
      vegetable ivory as in other palm seeds. They
      appear to be the same color and hardness.
 5. Vegetable ivory should not be affected by
      a weak acid solution, as described in detail
      by naturalists for coconut pearls.  3
 6. Some day, a coconut pearl will be discovered
      inside a "blind coconut" and substantiated
      with modern scanning instruments.
 6. Fraudulent coconut pearls will always show
      up, made by clever scam artists. It will be
      difficult to prove they came from coconuts.

1  The way this coconut has been cut open, an oblong object could have
easily been inserted through an enlarged germination pore and into the husk.

2  Aragonite pearls from mollusks can be identified from illumination studies with high
intensity fiber optic light and comparisons of their refractive index and specific gravity.

3  Vegetable ivory is composed of very dense cells containing the polymer hemicellulose.

Microscopic view of the endosperm of a ripe coconut showing several polygonal cells. The dark spherical objects are fat globules, commonly present in fatty fruits and seeds such as the coconut and avocado. They were stained with sudan black, a common microbiology stain. Vegetable ivory is hard, dried endosperm from the seeds of several species of tropical palms, including Phytelephas, Metroxylon and Hyphaene. Unlike the calcareous pearls of mollusks, vegetable ivory is composed of dense cells made of hemicellulose.

See The Wayne's Word Article About Vegetable Ivory

Ideally, each of these arguments (hypotheses) should be tested to see if any of them hold up. Detailed examinations could determine if alleged coconut pearls have the concentric aragonite layers as in true molluskan pearls. This has already been done by the Dutch zoologist A. Reyne during the late 1930s and 1940s who studied the structure of so-called coconut pearls in public and private collections, and concluded that they were the pearls of giant clams of the genus Tridacna or the Indo-Pacific clam Hippopus. Dr. Reyne's extensive research was also mentioned in Nature Vol. 160 page 653 (1947). Microscopic examinations could also determine if coconut pearls have the dense, cellular structure of vegetable ivory. Comparisons of their refractive index and specific gravity could determine if they are composed of aragonite like the pearls and shells of mollusks. But the most conclusive test of all would be to actually find one inside a coconut first hand. This seems very unlikely considering the fact that millions of coconuts are opened each year in plantations and no pearls have ever been found. Most eyewitness records of coconut pearls cited in the literature are secondhand accounts that were not observed by the authors of these articles. There are few firsthand, published accounts of pearls observed inside coconuts, but these have been shown to be fraudulent. The existence of coconut pearls is another myth like the "Loch Ness Monster" and "Bigfoot," only in the case of coconut pearls, realistic fabrications will always be around to cloud the truth. In fact, there are websites where you can actually purchase "coconut pearls." One site claims that the authenticity of their "coconut pearls" is based on psychic verification by a trained shaman. They also state that they cannot guarantee the authenticity of their "coconut pearls" with 100 percent certainty, but this "does not mean the pearls and stones are fake." I suppose it isn't too surprising to see "coconut pearls" for sale on the Internet since there are also websites offering extraterrestrial real estate for sale on the moon.

During the 1990s I published several articles where I suggested that coconut pearls might exist. Completely independent of my articles, J.F. Veldkamp of the National Herbarium of the Netherlands published an article in 2002 on coconut pearls entitled "VIII. Mestica Calappa, the Coconut Pearl, Trick or True?" for the prestigious Flora Malesiana Bulletin Vol. 13. He recently (14 August 2007) sent me an addendum to his original article that will be published in Vol. 18 of Flora Malesiana Bulletin. It seems that Dr. Veldkamp and myself both arrived at the same conclusion regarding the lack of authenticity for coconut pearls.

Although I once supported the existence of coconut pearls, I now believe there is insufficient evidence to support such a conclusion. If you find any old Internet references that credit me as a believer in coconut pearls, they are incorrect and should be updated. In the above table of arguments, my agreement percentages clearly favor the arguments against the existence of coconut pearls. For statements 1, 3, 4 and 5, I have an agreement of 5% for the existence of coconut pearls compared with a 95% agreement against coconut pearls. For statement 2, my agreement certainty for coconut pearls is 40% compared with a 60% certainty against. For statement 6, my agreement certainty is 15% for coconut pearls and 85% against. Therefore, my overall percentage agreement with the six arguments for the existence of coconut pearls is 12.5%, compared with an agreement of 87.5% against the existence of coconut pearls. This data is summarized in the following cluster bar graph.

Theoretical comparison of the six "For" and "Against" arguments by W.P. Armstrong


My quest for coconut pearls began during several Palomar College field expeditions to tropical regions in the 1980s and 1990s. My original position regarding the plausibility of coconut pearls was based on a number of reputable sources that verified their authenticity. E.J.H. Corner, Professor of Tropical Botany at the University of Cambridge flatly stated that coconut pearls exist in his classic book The Natural History of Palms (1966): "Inside some coconuts, which seem to have no power of germination, there are found the rare coconut pearls, half to one inch long, made of calcium carbonate, not siliceous as the bamboo pearls, but endowed also with magical properties." Other references were more vague about the existence coconut pearls, but generally concluded that they could be authentic. I had no reason to doubt these authorities.

When I first saw the Maharajah coconut pearl on display at Fairchild Tropical Garden in the early 1990s, I was convinced there might be some truth to the existence of these "botanical gems." Unfortunately, I published an on-line note about this "pearl" in 1996 before I discovered that it did not come from a coconut. My old note still appears on some websites, even though there is overwhelming evidence to show that so-called "coconut pearls" do not come from coconuts! Years later I discovered that the origin of the Maharajah coconut pearl (and other so-called coconut pearls) was secondhand. The original botanist or writer, in this case Dr. David Fairchild, never actually saw the "pearl" in its original coconut. It was presented to him on Celebes Island in 1940. This revelation became clear to me after reading his book Garden Islands of the Great East: Collecting Seeds From the Philippines and Netherlands India in the Junk "Chêng Ho," published in 1943 by Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. A photo of the pearl appeared on page 128 with the following caption: "This rare jewel is pictured about as it would be found in the white meat of a coconut near the end where the sprout comes out through the pore." It is obvious that the "pearl" had been placed in a sectioned coconut for the photograph. In other words, the "pearl" was not photographed in situ within its original coconut.

I began to doubt the existence of coconut pearls when I was offered one over the Internet for $60,000 U.S. dollars. If the seller hadn't been so greedy I might have purchased it; however, the photo image was highly suspect because the "pearl" appeared to be inserted into the sectioned husk of a coconut. When I researched my article for Ornament Magazine (2005), I conducted a thorough library search through the University of California and the Gemological Institute of America. I found many references dating back more than 60 years that clearly showed that coconut pearls in various collections were derived from giant clams or another source, and did not come from coconuts. In fact, the aragonite structure of mollusk shells and pearls can readily be identified using translumination studies with high intensity fiber optic light, X-ray diffraction, and comparisons of their refractive index and specific gravity. It is surprising that some of the authors that have perpetuated the coconut pearl myth did not come across these excellent references.

In 2007, I submitted a summary of my Ornament article to the Drifting Seed Newsletter in Florida. Apparently Dr. J.V. Veldkamp of the National Herbarium of the Netherlands and editor of the prestigious journal Flora Malesiana Bulletin, saw this newsletter. Completely independent of my articles, he has also been studying coconut pearls called "mestica calappa" and published a paper on this subject for Flora Malesiana Bulletin in 2002. Although he expressed considerable skepticism, he concluded that they might exist based on previous articles prior to 2002, including a few of my own. Like myself, he is now convinced that they are a hoax and is updating his original article in the next issue of Flora Malesiana Bulletin. He is citing my Ornament article, Palomar College and my pages on Wayne's Word. Scholarly journals typically cite botanists through their affiliated institution and herbarium which is published in Index Herbariorum. The official acronym for Palomar College is PASM. So my coconut pearl quest has come full circle, from my early articles in Terra (1992) and Palomar's early website in 1996, to my latest articles in Ornament and The Drifting Seed, culminating in Dr. Velkamp's update for the Flora Malesiana Bulletin. His update is quoted in the following table:

(continued from Flora Malesiana Bulletin Vol. 13, p. 153, 2002)

J.F. Veldkamp
Nationaal Herbarium Nederland, Leiden branch
PO Box 9514, 2300 RA Leiden
The Netherlands

In the Flora Malesiana Bulletin of 2002 I wrote a note on the supposed occurrence of "pearls" in coconuts ("Mestica calappa"). Since then, the unnamed collector sent me his specimen for an assay and I asked Mr. J.C. Zwaan, Director of the Gemmological Laboratory, Natural History Museum "Naturalis" here in Leiden, to take a look at it, which he kindly did.

His report was brief and to the point: "I am convinced that this must be a shell based on its chemical composition and structure. I have shown it to a mollusk specialist here, Mr. J. Goud, who could only confirm this". The shell could be of Hippopus sp., or Tridacna sp., or another large shell, but its actual identity remained uncertain. He showed me the specimen and his comparative samples, and I could only agree. And this was such a nice story...

A more extensive report is provided by Brown et. al. (1988) published in a journal that will be unavailable to most botanists. I briefly summarise it here:

The investigation was made on a "?pearl" that had been purchased in Hong Kong said to have an Indonesian origin.

Macroscopic examination showed that it was porcellanous, egg-shaped with 8--10 mm long vertical incisions around the equator (our pearl was completely smooth. JFV). It weighed 24.75 carat and was 14.75 by 15 mm. The specific gravity by hydrostatic weighing was 2.87. Examination with a hand lens revealed that it had a dull porcellanous lustre, was essentially opaque, the incisions had been made with either a file or a rotary abrasive disc, and there was no "flame" pattern on its external surface. X-ray radiography showed that it was formed from a structureless radiopaque material. Translumination by a high intensity fibre optic source revealed a pattern of fine wavy parallel banding that apparently crossed, the growth layers of a thick sea-shell. The origin was confirmed by the aragonite values determined for the refractive index and the specific gravity.

This conforms to the observations made by previous analyses cited in my 2002 paper.

Completely independent of my paper, Wayne P. Armstrong (PASM) published a series on the Internet and in print, the latest one in 2007. At first, he thought that there might be some trace of truth in the story, but concluded "extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and the proof is lacking here". He was kind enough to send me some reprints, e.g. the Brown et al. paper mentioned above. See his site where there is also a picture of Fairchild's Maharaja pearl.

If you search the Internet for coconut pearls, you will run into sites where they are offered for between US$ 60 and 60,000 (!). They might be worth it, as "according to experts in energy flows, the pearl expels negative energy (whatever that is), it brings luck, increases business dealings, and guarantees social success through stimulating personal magnetism of the person (wow!), offers charisma, healing, and lowers fever (so does aspirin)".

By the way, before you rush out to obtain all these benefits, note that Hippopus and Tridacna spp. are cited in CITES Appendix II, which requires a permit before parts of them can be transported (and worn).


Armstrong, W. 2007. Do pearls come from coconuts? The Drifting Seed 13: 13--17.

Brown, G., S.M.B. Kelly & J. Snow. 1988. A coconut pearl? A Gemmological Study Club report. Austral. Gemmologist 16: 361--362.

Veldkamp, J.F. 2002. Mestica calappa, the coconut pearl, trick or true? Fl. Males. Bull. 13: 143--153.

References About Coconut Pearls

  1. Anon. 1947. "No Pearls in Coco-nuts." Nature 160 (4071): 653.

  2. Armstrong, W.P. 2007. "Do Pearls Come From Coconuts?" The Drifting Seed 13 (1): 13-17.

  3. Armstrong, W.P. 2005. "Coconut Pearls: A Reevaluation of Authenticity." Ornament 28 (2): 46-49.

  4. Armstrong, W.P. 1992. "Jewels Of The Tropics." Terra 30 (3): 26-33

  5. Brown, G., S.M.B. Kelly, and J. Snow. 1988. "A Coconut Pearl?" The Australian Gemologist 16 (10): 361-362.

  6. Corner, E.J.H. 1966. The Natural History of Palms. University of California Press, Berkeley.

  7. Fairchild, D. 1943. Garden Islands of the Great East: Collecting Seeds From the Philippines and Netherlands India in the Junk "Cheng Ho." Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.

  8. Haile, N.S. 1974. "The Captivating Quest for the Mysterious Coconut Pearl." The Straits Times Annual: 75-77, 159.

  9. Harries, H.C. 1978. "The Evolution, Dissemination and Classification of Cocos nucifera L." Botanical Review 44: 265-320.

  10. Heiser, C.B. Jr. 1973. Seed to Civilization: The Story of Man's Food. W.H. freeman and Company, San Francisco.

  11. Hunger, F.W.T. 1925. "Nature and Origin of Coco-Nut Pearls." Nature 115 (2882): 138- 139.

  12. Krikorian, A.D. 1982. "Coconut "Stones" or "Pearls": Early Descriptions by Alzina, Kamel and Rumphius." Principes 26 (3): 107-121.

  13. Reyne, A. 1939. "Coconut Peals." Ann. Jardin bot de Buitenzorg 49: 43-48.

  14. Reyne, A. 1947. "On the Structure of Shells and Pearls of Tridacna squamosa (Lam.) and Hippopus hippopus (Linn.)." Arch. Netherlands Zoology 8: 206-242.

  15. Rumphius, G.E. 1741-1750. Herbarium Amboinense. Volumes 1-6. Den Haag, Amsterdam.

  16. Veldkamp, J.V. 2002. "VIII. Mestica Calappa, The Coconut Pearl, Trick or True?" Flora Malesiana Bulletin 13 (2): 143-153.

  17. Veldkamp, J.V. 2008. "Mestica Calappa, The Coconut Pearl. 2. The Mystery Unravelled." Flora Malesiana Bulletin Vol. 18.

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