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What’s Blooming: Coontie

By Staff | Feb 9, 2012

First impression: Milk chocolate brown colored pine cones popping with glow in the dark orange fruit. The fruits are concealed ripening amongst the cone casings in the center of the plant. Fern like stiff leaves line the branches in dark rich green. This mature plant is a wonderful groundcover covering an area of 4 feet across and 3 feet tall. It reminds me of plants you would see during the dinosaur’s days, a cross between a trunk-less palm and a stiff fern. It may transport you to images of a jungle-like island from years gone by blooming here at the Botanical Gardens of the Sanibel Moorings.

Upon further investigation: I have never met a Cycad I haven’t loved! Cycads are part of the oldest known plant family, they hail from the Jurassic Period. Centuries ago they were everywhere; today they are a very minor component in our gardens. You would think that millions of years might have changed them, but you can rely on them being pretty much looking and acting just like they did when the dinosaurs were alive and kicking. It can grow up to 4 feet tall and 4 feet wide, with a clumping sprawling type manner. Slow growing, with no visible trunk, the stems emerge from the base. The trunk is a tuber-like structure that is located underground. The stems are fern like but very stiff and a lovely dark green. The leaves line each side of the stems from top to bottom. Even though, it has a palm look, it hails from the pine family. Look closely in the center you will see the tell tale pine cones. Our star is dioecious, having male or female reproductive “cones” present on separate plants. The plump and wide cone identifies the female. Slender and tall identifies the male plants. Female are the fruit bearers after the male produces his pollen. The result, striking electric orange colored fruits contrast against the dark brown conesshow stopper! This unusual fruit is poisonous to us, but yummy to our critters. Its low growing sprawling habit is a great protective shelter for birds, turtles, rabbits and wildlife. It is the host plant for the endangered Atala butterfly. This butterfly only takes up residence way south of us, so it is not utilized in our area by this struggling butterfly species. Our shrub is a must have plant for a low maintenance ground cover and it is one of my favorite. It has a dreamy take you back to days gone by tropical look and does well in full sun or full shade. I have embraced its uniqueness, and will add it for a great beginning frame to my layered and tiered planting areas. It will grow on a wide variety of soils and sand, but cannot tolerate wet feet. I began my love of Coontie, with my first plant I purchased from the SCCF Native Plant Nursery. Its native status puts it in the easy nature and lack of pests/disease category. Do you have a hard to grow anything shady or sunny spot-try planting our star and see what happens!

Pros: Does well in sandy soil – Likes full sun to shade – Easy to maintain Salt tolerance Don’t you just love saying koon-tee Drought tolerant Gives garden a jungle feel Native – Easy care Fruits are strikingly gorgeous Wildlife love it Run for cover if you hear dinosaurs – Super groundcover – Great for hard to grow areas.

Cons: Slow grower Cold sensitive Is prone to scale just treat with systemic.

Conclusion: Are you missing your paleontological jungle? Swing by our garden and admire our many survivors from the Jurassic period. Follow the dinosaur’s foot prints to our tropical garden in paradise.

Don’t wanna miss this bloomer!