When landscaping, many Tampa Bay residents want to include only native plants and species. However, you may be surprised to learn that the Coontie palm is not only Florida’s only native cycad, but also the only cycad native to the entire continent. That’s right – even though we live in a gorgeous subtropical climate that is able to support a wide variety of tropical plant species, only one cycad is indigenous to our area. Cycads have been around on Earth for over 300 million years, since before the dinosaurs existed! Learn how to include this prehistoric plant in your landscape.
Light Requirements: Coontie are generally easy going plants. They prefer to receive at least partial shade, but are able to tolerate full sun conditions. For the best results, either plant coontie palm underneath taller plants, or on the north and east sides of your house so that they are shaded from the sun during the hottest parts of the day.
Water Requirements: Since these palms evolved here in South Florida, they are well-conditioned to survive in our natural climate – including during droughts. No need to worry about this plant if we are going through a dry spell, since it is equipped to thrive even then. Coontie even has a pretty high salt tolerance, so it’s a great choice for a seaside landscape.
Soil Requirements: Well-draining, sandy soil will suit coontie palms best. Their roots are sensitive to prolonged exposure to moisture; avoid overwatering and plant in a well-draining area, and this plant will be happy as a clam. You don’t even need to worry about adding any soil amendments when you plant them; just add some fertilizer three times a year in the spring, summer, and fall for optimal growth. When potting indoors, coontie will grow best in a cactus and palm potting mix. If you prefer creating your own potting soil, mix together equal parts sand and peat moss to give your coontie palm a happy home.
Coontie Palm as a Houseplant: Since these plants remain relatively small and prefer shady conditions, they can make good houseplants. We don’t recommend keeping them inside if you have pets, however; all parts of the plant are poisonous, and the seeds are fatal even in small amounts to both animals and people.
Coontie Palm in the Landscape: These are small palms that only reach about 3 feet in height when they are full grown. That, combined with their tolerance for partial or full shade, makes them an excellent understory plant to fill in space below taller trees and shrubs. Their hardiness makes them ideal for areas like lining driveways and mailboxes that experience conditions that are a bit more extreme than your average backyard garden bed.
Their Place in the Environment: Coontie palm also plays an important ecological role in our landscapes–it is the only host plant on which the endangered Atala butterfly lays its eggs! In the same way that monarch butterflies cannot exist without milkweed plants, the Atala butterfly population has suffered from a lack of coontie palms available on which to reproduce. Fortunately, the Atala butterfly has seen a comeback in South Florida in recent years. You can support our native wildlife and help save this beautiful butterfly by adding coontie palm to your landscape today.
For more tools, supplies and ideas for creating a Florida landscape at your Sarasota or Tampa area home, visit Big Earth Landscape Supply.