Botanical Name: Zamia integrifolia, synonyms: Zamia angustifolia var. floridana, Zamia floridana
Common Name: Coontie, Coontie Palm, Arrowroot, Florida Arrowroot
Description: I absolutely love this gorgeous cycad! Why do I love it? Well, it’s native, evergreen, slow-growing to 2-3′ tall x 3-5′ wide, is an ancient plant that was here before the dinosaurs, is a Florida native along with being the only cycad native to the United States, and is the sole host plant for the endangered Atala butterfly. What’s not to love about it!
Its native habit is upland hardwood forests, high pine, coastal hammocks, and shell middens in sandy soil with acidic to circum-neutral pH. It grows just fine in either sun, part sun, part shade, or shade. However, my experience with them is they look their absolute best in a part sun or part shade area. Their leaves are glossy and featherlike with just enough movement to keep them from being stiff and boring. It does not like being planted in overly wet areas. Coonties do not flower.
The seeds are a source of food for mockingbirds, blue jays, and many other birds, as well as insects and small mammals.
Coontie thrives in dry, upland areas where wildfires are common. The underground stem sends up new leaves quickly after a fire. Because these dry areas make good places to build our homes and businesses, coontie is listed as an endangered/commercially exploited species in Florida. Please do not disturb the ones you see growing in their native habitats.
This is an excellent native choice over the overused, non-native Sago palms.
Over fifty species of Zamia are native to warm regions of North and South America. These plants may resemble ferns or small palms but they are a type of gymnosperm known as a cycad. Cycad fossils date back before the dinosaurs to about 300 million years ago. Modern cycads often live in difficult environments where the competition from other plants is low. Similar to pines, cycads produce cone-like structures called strobili. Seed-bearing and pollen-bearing strobili are borne on separate plants, a condition termed dioecious.
Coontie palms do contain some nasty toxins (neurotoxins and carcinogens), which makes it toxic to pets and people if eaten. Be sure to wash off its sticky sap if it gets on you. This is a great plant for your Poison Garden!
Coonties have interesting symbiotic relationships with other organisms. A tiny weevil pollinates the plants and uses the pollen-bearing strobili as food for its larvae. If the larvae try to eat the seed-bearing strobilis, they are poisoned. The weevil and the coontie is each dependent on the other for survival. In addition, nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria live in root nodules of the coontie.
Like all cycad plants, it does very well in containers, as long as it’s allowed to dry out between waterings.
Tolerant of inundation with brackish water. Some tolerance to salty wind but not direct salt spray.
This plant in 3-gallon containers is 1 – 2′ tall.
Plant Lore: The coontie palm was used by Native Americans as a source of starch. Also for many years this starch was used in the making of Animal Crackers.
Florida Hardiness Zones 8 – 11