The origins of this plant are the subject of debate.
- Most authorities claiming it is native to South Asia (particularly the Ganges Delta), while others claim its origin is in northwestern South America.
- Fossil records from New Zealand indicate that small, coconut-like plants grew there as long as 15 million years ago.
- Even older fossils have been uncovered in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Thennai in Kerala on the banks of River Palar, Then-pennai, Thamirabharani, Cauvery and Mountain sides at Kerala borders, Konaseema-Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra (India)
- The oldest known so far in Khulna, Bangladesh.
- Mention is made of coconuts in the 2nd–1st centuries BC in the Mahawamsa of Sri Lanka. The later Culawamsa states that King Aggabodhi I (575–608) planted a coconut garden of 3 yojanas length, possibly the earliest recorded coconut plantation.
The OED states: 'Portuguese and Spanish authors of the 16th c. agree in identifying the word with Portuguese and Spanish coco ‘grinning face, grin, grimace’, also ‘bugbear, scarecrow’, cognate with cocar ‘to grin, make a grimace’; the name being said to refer to the face-like appearance of the base of the shell, with its three holes. Historical evidence favours the European origin of the name, for there is nothing similar in any of the languages of India, where the Portuguese first found the fruit; and indeed Barbosa, Barros, and Garcia, in mentioning the Malayalam name tenga, and Canarese narle, expressly say ‘we call these fruits quoquos’, ‘our people have given it the name of coco’, ‘that which we call coco, and the Malabars temga’.'
Coconut palms require warm conditions for successful growth, and are intolerant of cold weather. Optimum growth is with a mean annual temperature of 27 °C (81 °F), and growth is reduced below 21 °C (70 °F). Some seasonal variation is tolerated, with good growth where mean summer temperatures are between 28–37 °C (82–99 °F), and survival as long as winter temperatures are above 4–12 °C (39–54 °F); they will survive brief drops to 0 °C (32 °F). Severe frost is usually fatal, although they have been known to recover from temperatures of −4 °C (24.8 °F). They may grow but not fruit properly in areas where there is not sufficient warmth, like Bermuda.
The conditions required for coconut trees to grow without any care are:
- mean daily temperature above 12-13C every day of the year
- 50 year low temperature above freezing
- mean yearly rainfall above 1000 mm
- no or very little overhead canopy, since even small trees require a lot of sun
The main limiting factor is that most locations which satisfy the first three requirements do not satisfy the fourth, except near the coast where the sandy soil and salt spray limit the growth of most other trees (Palmtalk).
The range of the natural habitat of the coconut palm tree is delineated by the red line in map C1 to the right (based on information in Werth 1933, slightly modified by Niklas Jonsson).
- The nut provides oil for cooking and making margarine.
- The white, fleshy part of the seed, the coconut meat, is edible and used fresh or dried in cooking.
 Coconut water
The cavity is filled with coconut water, which is sterile until opened. It also mixes easily with blood, so for these reasons it was used during World War II as an emergency transfusion liquid for patients who had lost a lot of blood.
- It contains sugar, fiber, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, and provides an isotonic electrolyte balance, making it a highly nutritious food source. It is used as a refreshing drink throughout the humid tropics, and is also used in isotonic sports drinks. It can also be used to make the gelatinous dessert nata de coco. Mature fruits have significantly less liquid than young immature coconuts; barring spoilage.
 Coconut milk
- Coconut milk is made by processing grated coconut with hot water or milk, which extracts the oil and aromatic compounds. It should not be confused with coconut water, and has a fat content around 17%. When refrigerated and left to set, coconut cream will rise to the top and separate from the milk. The milk is used to produce virgin coconut oil by controlled heating and removing the oil fraction. Virgin coconut oil is found superior to the oil extracted from copra for cosmetic purposes.
- The leftover fiber from coconut milk production is used as livestock feed.
"Millionaire's Salad" and Coconut Sprout
- Apical buds of adult plants are edible, and are known as "palm-cabbage" or heart-of-palm. They are considered a rare delicacy, as the act of harvesting the buds kills the palms. Hearts of palm are eaten in salads, sometimes called "millionaire's salad".
- Newly germinated coconuts contain an edible fluff of marshmallow-like consistency called coconut sprout, produced as the endosperm nourishes the developing embryo.
 Philippines and Vietnam
- In the Philippines, rice is wrapped in coconut leaves for cooking and subsequent storage; these packets are called puso.
- In Vietnam, coconut is grown mainly in Ben Tre Province, often called the "land of the coconut". It is used to make candy, caramel and jelly.
- Coconut juice and coconut milk are used in many dishes, especially in Vietnam's Southern style of cooking, e.g.kho, chè, etc.
- n Kerala, most dishes include coconut. The most common way of cooking vegetables is to scrape coconut and then steam the vegetables with coconut and spices after frying in a little oil. Dishes that include scraped coconut are generally referred to as "thoran", while dishes without scraped coconut belong to the class "Muruku perratti".
- People from Kerala also make a wide variety of "chamandis" which involve grinding the coconut meat with salt, chillies, and various whole spices. The "chamandi" can then be eaten with rice or kanji (rice gruel).
- The coconut meat is also used as a snack and is eaten with jaggery or molasses.
- "Puttu" is a culinary delicacy from Kerala, in which layers of coconut alternate with layers of powdered rice, all of which fit into a steel or aluminium tube, which is then steamed over a steel or aluminium pot.
- Daily at least one coconut "tamil:தேங்காய்" is broken in the middle class families in Tamil Nadu for using in their food preparations.
- Invariably the main side dish served with Idle, Vada, and Dosa is coconut chutney.
- Coconut is mixed and ground with other spices for sambar and other lunch dishes.