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What’s Blooming in Paradise: Sea Grape (Coccoloba uvifera)

By Staff | Aug 5, 2011

First impression: Jumbo, ping pong paddle shaped, stiff green leaves. Cascades of chartreuse peas in the draping form resembling grapes. I see oodles of long slender brown stems that once held flowers now beginning their fruit formation. The dense arrangements of leaves and fruits make gazing at this massive tree quite breathtaking. I notice architecturally gorgeous bones with large gnarly limbs and a substantial trunk all in tan bumpy bark. Grapes in paradise? Oh yes, we have them growing out of trees in full fruit at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.

Upon further investigation: Coccoloba includes approximately 400 species of plants varying from shrubs, vines and trees. Sea Grape is one of our fabulous local native species. Our star is very versatile and can be pruned as a hedge or left free reach the height of 50 feet. Even tough, it is naturally multi trunked; it can be pruned to one main trunk. It has a shorter sprawling manner on coastal beaches, but in our gardens its habit is a wonderful large canopied shade tree. The trunk is massive and unique, with bumpy and twisted low growing limbs and light tan textured bark. The dimensional bark looks like it’s very old and is quite a conversation starter. Sea Grape is briefly deciduous tree that partially loses its leaves different times of the year. Attractive new growth leaves are a bronzy golden color. In winter the large leaves turn red from cold and become our autumn leaves. During the spring, the leaves will turn yellow then shed them for new growth. You can recognize these large oversized leaves, which are wider than they are long all over SWF. Look closer and identify the red veins and leathery texture. These leaves have been used throughout paradise as picnic plates, kooky hats, and valentines. If you are lucky enough to have a female tree, you will get lovely white blossom that turn into bunches of peas sized fruit. These grapes unfortunately are more seed than fruit. When they are ripe enough to eat they turn from lima bean green to a concord burgundy color. Unfortunately, they ripen at different intervals and it’s difficult to collect them for any substantial human food source. Fortunately, this means more juicy fruits for our garden wildlife. Sea Grapes are as very important as food and nectar sources for them. The flowers bring in the bees and oohh what a great honey them inspire. Birds feed on the insects around the flowers and berries. All wildlife adores the fruits for the plentiful harvest they supply. You may plant in full sun or filtered shade, is salt and drought tolerant. It is a very hardy native plant with little or no pests or diseases. I began my love of Sea Grape, with my first plant that I purchased from the SCCF Native Plant Nursery. I invite you to add more Sea Grapes to your garden. Let them grow un-hedged and un-edged and discover what a treasure they are here in our neck of the woods. Don’t forget to thank me!

Pros: Huge leaves – Drought tolerant- Attractive when blooming or non blooming – Full Sun Massive trunk is a conversation starter – Salt tolerant May inspire more outside naps – Blooming brings in the Pollinators – Fast growing Wildlife Attractor – Native plant – Great for a privacy hedge/barrier

Cons: Daily clean up large leaves and fruits Pollinator attractor May have to invest in a comfortable hammock May have to thank Anita.

Conclusion: You can’t walk by these fruits by the sea without admiring their generous showering of grapes. So many treasures, so little time in a tropical eye catching garden location.

Don’t wanna miss this fruiter!