National Geographic : 2012 Mar
NOW PHOTO: MARK THIESSEN, NGM STAFF. GRAPHIC: KISS ME I'M POLISH SOURCES: UN FOOD AND AGRICULTURE ORGANIZATION; STATISTICS NEW ZEALAND Coconut Health drink, shredded sweet, woven mat, biofuel---is there anything a coconut can't become? Humans have used this versatile palm-tree "nut" for half a million years, by one estimate. Even so, coconuts remain refreshingly cutting-edge. Take their appeal as an energy source. This year Tokelau, a trio of South Pacific atolls, aims to generate all of its power with solar energy and coconut oil. It joins other coconut-rich places--- including Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Vanuatu---that have blended or modified coconut oil to run things like ships, trucks, and official vehicles. On the health front, electrolyte-packed coconut water's been making waves in the U.S. and Brazil, where packaged consumption doubled from 2005 to 2010. Call it a gourmet turn for a hydrating drink long enjoyed straight from the shell. ---LS The Wondrous Don't knock it: The coconut comes in a perfect package. For millions of years the tropical fruit has populated islands by floating from shore to shore in a buoyant husk. That packaging, it turns out, also helps it navigate the U.S. postal system. Mailing a coconut is surprisingly simple: Pen address on surface, affix postage, and off it goes. Each year some 3,000 "coconut postcards" (above) get shipped this way from Hawaii's Hoolehua post office. But creativity can come from anywhere. Other self-contained mailings have included pumpkins, driftwood, flip-flops, and messages in sand-filled bottles. The U.S. Postal Service tries to deliver so long as objects don't pose a risk, says spokeswoman Sue Brennan. "Can you mail a dog? We get this question all the time," she says. "The answer is, no!" ---Luna Shyr New Zealand has 39.5 million sheep and 4.4 million people---a 9:1 ratio that is the highest in the world.