Have you noticed the bright rusty-red cones that are popping up around the Rookery pond? In the fall, coontie plants (Zamia integrifolia) form seed cones that are a food source for blue jays, mockingbirds, grackles, and other large birds. This fern-like plant with stiff, glossy leaves is a gymnosperm and reproduces by seed and pollen cones instead of flowers and fruits. Specialized beetles that have coevolved with coontie carry pollen from the male plants to the female plants, and other insects, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals benefit from its low-growing cover.
The only native cycad in the United States, coontie was a staple food for indigenous people, who knew how to remove its toxins during preparation. Coontie was then commercially exploited and almost extirpated from Florida in the early 1900s. It is a larval host plant for the endangered Atala butterfly, thought to be extinct until 1979, as well as the Echo moth. This iconic Florida plant can be viewed in natural areas and botanical gardens and is carried by native nurseries around the state – check out plantrealflorida.org.
- Kristin Hoffschmidt
Sarasota County Call Center: 941-861-5000 (General information and directions)
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