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What’s Blooming in Paradise: Sea Grapes a treasure for the garden

By Staff | May 4, 2016

Sea grape. PHOTO BY ANITA FORCE MARSHALL

Plant Subject: Sea Grape (Coccoloba uvifera)

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, only we grown them in the trees.

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. It has a shorter sprawling manner on coastal beaches, but in our gardens its habit can be tree like upright and spreading.

Our star is very versatile, pruned as a hedge, or left free to reach the heights of 50 feet. It is naturally multi trunked, but can be groomed to one main trunk. Look out, a mature trunk is massive and unique, with bumpy and twisted low growing limbs and is quite a conversation starter.

Sea Grape is briefly deciduous and partially loses its leaves, but has an attractive new growth with leaves in a bronzy golden color. In a chilly winter the large leaves turn red from cold and become our falling autumn leaves. You can recognize these large oversized leaves, which are wider than they are long all over SWF. Look closer and you will notice red veins and a leathery texture. These leaves have been used throughout paradise as picnic plates, kooky hats, artist’s palettes, 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 skin and 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, as they are a very important food and nectar source for them. The flowers bring in the bees and ooh what a great honey they 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, wind, 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 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

Attractive when blooming or non blooming

Full sun

Salt tolerant

May inspire more outside naps

Blooming brings in the pollinators

Wildlife attractor

Native plant

Great for a privacy hedge/barrier

Wind resistant

Cons:

Daily clean up large leaves and fruits

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 your tropical eye catching garden by the sea.

Don’t wanna miss this fruiter!