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November 25th, 2020

Coontie: Home Sweet Home – For Butterflies

by R.S. Walsh

A plant originating deep within the history of Florida, the Coontie plant, sometimes referred to as a palm, is actually not a palm at all, but an ancient cycad, or what we think of as a “living fossil”! These bright green shrubs can add a great pop of fresh color and foliage to a Floridian or coastal landscape, and its easy maintenance is quite a breeze!

The Coontie has several different derivatives within Florida and its islands, its main scientific classification standing as Zamia floridana, though there’s no question that this little sprout is quite the island native. Its versatility makes it perfect for any garden, landscape, or outdoor quarters, as it grows great in full sun, as well as deep shade, and in containers or straight from the ground. This slow-growing shrub reaches measurements of 2 ½ to 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide, requiring minimal maintenance, like the occasional pruning and fertilization. Watering a newly installed Coontie should be scheduled regularly, though allow for ample time to dry in between waterings. Once established, the Coontie can survive happily without routine watering.

When looking for a Coontie, some quality characteristics include stiff green leaves, having a featherlike appearance, attached to a short, underground base. Native Americans were known to ground up these stems into cooking flour long ago. Close to the base of the plant is where the Coontie’s seeded cones can be found, which like a flower, produce pollen and seeds. The Coontie happens to be the only host for the Blue Atala butterfly, which thrives on its food supply and shelter for laying eggs. Their tropical, green appearance works wonderfully as borders or accents around buildings, as well as attractive groundcover. Not to mention, the Coonties were built for island life, as they are highly tolerant to salt winds, making them perfect for those who enjoy coastal living.

All around, the Coontie will win you over with its alluring assets, being easily manageable, appealing and convenient for any type of landscaping, and is hardy in Florida weather.

This column is a joint effort by all at In The Garden, Sanibel’s local garden center located at 3889 Sanibel Captiva Rd., Sanibel Island, Florida.

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