In more recent times (the last 600 years or more), bread made from flour from the coontie's stem sustained the native Calusa and Timucua peoples of Florida.
But it's not their impressive lineage that has made me fall in love with them. It's their indestructibility.
Put them in full or part shade, in just about any well-drained soil, and they'll thrive. They can even survive in full sun, though I don't think they look entirely happy there.
They are bonafide water misers, among the most drought-tolerant plants I know. I never feel the need to water mine, even in our rain-starved spring months. They do occasionally get scale and sooty mold, but neither are a huge problem and can be managed with a dousing of insecticidal soap or Neem oil.
Coonties are good choices for coastal landscapes because they tolerate salt pretty well. And they scoff at cold weather. What's not to love?
I have about a dozen coonties in my landscape. I now know that there is some point during the late winter or spring when they will look like they're about to croak. Their fronds turn brown and droopy. Perhaps they suffer from some botanical Seasonal Affective Disorder.
But just when I start to get really worried about them, they bounce back. So now I don't worry anymore.
Coonties are very slow-growing. It's illegal to harvest them from the wild, so the coonties you see in landscapes are all nursery stock. It at least 3-4 years for a coontie to reach a marketable 1-gallon size. Nursery growers invest a lot of time in them; that's why they are fairly expensive plants.
But, Holy Cycad, are they resilient and durable! I love to see them in mass plantings, where they make a beautiful, fern-like groundcover up to 3 feet high.
|Female coontie cone|
|Male coontie cone|
One year I tried to raise my own coontie pups. I eagerly scooped up the seeds, put them in a bucket of water to soften the tough orange coating and then used a pocketknife to scrape off some of the coating and nick, or "scarify" the hard pod beneath.
I planted the seeds in nursery pots in loose-packed, well-drained soil, and waited. And waited. And waited.
Months later, a few of the seeds sprouted. Well, three out of 25 to be exact. Not exactly a result to crow about.
Do you have this tough-as-nails Florida native in your landscape?