Tillandsia Web, Dade Chapter, Florida Native Plant Society
for Miami-Dade County and the Florida Keys

Online Newsletter

Excerpted from our print newsletter. See the printed newsletter for detailed Field Trip directions and reports, for phone and addresses for yard visits and additional articles. Join now to obtain the benefits of full membership!

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In This Issue


If you didn't receive this Tillandsia in your mail box,
… then you aren't a member of DCFNPS.

Please consider joining (if you have never joined) or rejoining (if your membership has lapsed).  We'd like to have you counted as a conservator of Florida's native plants and a supporter of FNPS!

drawing of a mail boxGive a gift FNPS membership! 
It comes with a FREE native plant.
Two gifts that will keep on giving.

Contact 305-255-6404 or pphares@mindspring.com.



January 2008

15 (Tue.):  Meeting in the Keys (Islamorada)
19 (Sat.):   Field trip (Keys/Dade groups) in Key Largo
       Note: The potluck party in Tavernier has been postponed.
22 (Tue.):  Meeting in Dade

February 2008

9 (Sat.):    Chapter workday, Everglades National Park, and ENP Volunteer Appreciation Lunch (please rsvp).
19 (Tue.):  Meeting in the Keys (Marathon). “Key Deer - Ecological Effects on Native Vegetation on Big Pine and No Name Keys” – Bob Ehrig
23 (Sat.):   Dade field trip (Elliott Key) – preregister now!
23 (Sat.):   Keys group field trip: National Key Deer Refuge,Big Pine Key.
26 (Tue.): Meeting in Dade. “Rare Natives of Everglades National Park” - Jimi Sadle, ENP.

March 2008

15 (Sat.): NATIVE PLANT DAY in North Miami
18 (Tue.): Meeting in the Keys (Islamorada). Panel discussion “Landscaping with Native Plants” with Joyce Gann and George Gann.
22 (Sat.): Keys group field trip: TBA
25 (Tue.): Meeting in Dade: “Give Peas a Chance: Fabaceae (Pea Family) in South Florida” - Steven W. Woodmansee, The Inst. for Regional Conservation
Dade field trip TBA

April 2008

15 (Tue.): Monthly meeting in the Keys (Marathon). “History of Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park” – Janice Duquesnel
20 (Sun.): Keys group field trip: TBA
22(Tue.): Meeting in Dade. “Lichens and the Native Flora of Subtropical Florida” – Rick Seavey.
Dade field trip TBA

See our online Calendar for more details and dates.


Tuesday, January 22, 7:30 p.m. at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Corbin Building, 10901 Old Cutler Road.  Free and open to the public.

“What Gives Florida Tropical Woods Their Beautiful Colors and Grains?”  Dr. Jack B. Fisher, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.

Dr. Fisher will describe how tropical woods grow and illustrate how variations in wood growth and the chemicals deposited in wood produce distinctive grains and color.  Wood samples will be on display courtesy of Ed McSweeny.  Both Jack and Ed are members of FNPS and the South Florida Woodturners Guild.  Dr. Fisher is Senior Research Scientist at the Center for Tropical Plant Conservation, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.  He has performed research on tropical plant structure and function at Fairchild for 35 years, teaches as an adjunct at UM and FIU and is a member of the International Society of Wood Anatomists.

Refreshments begin at 7:15; merchandise sales are before and after the program (cash/checks only).

Feb. 26: "Rare Natives of Everglades Nat. Park" - Jimi Sadle, ENP.
Mar. 25: "Give Peas a Chance…Fabaceae (Pea Family) in South Florida" - Steven W. Woodmansee, The Inst. for Reg. Consv.

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Field trips are for the study of plants and enjoyment of nature by FNPS members (Dade and Keys) and their invited guests. Children are welcome. Details are contained in the printed newsletter mailed each month to members. Collecting is not permitted. Please join today so that you can enjoy all the benefits of membership!

Saturday, January 19: Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Bot. State Park.  See Activities in the Keys (below).

Saturday, February 23.  Boat trip to Elliott Key / botanize in the hammock and coastal area.  Please let us know by January 19 if you are interested. Time: ~9a.m. – 4:30 p.m. from Biscayne National Park’s Convoy Point (SW 328th Street, Homestead).   If we have enough people to charter the boat and fill it up, your cost for this great trip will be less than the standard boat fee (which is $27 for adults).  FNPS members: $20 for adults, $15 for children (under 12).  Non-members: $25 for adults, $17 for children.  Please contact Patty Phares (even if you are not 100% sure) at pphares@mindspring.com or 305-255-6404 by January 19 so we can decide whether to charter the boat, but you can still reserve after that date if there is space.  We will provide details later for meeting location and what to bring.

Learn to ID plants: If you would like help, please let it be known – we’ll introduce you to good people to stick close to. A plant list may be obtained for this site by visiting The Institute for Regional Conservation website at www.regionalconservation.org, and registering and then logging onto the Floristic Inventory of South Florida online database.

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For more information, contact Sue Miller at 305-664-9440 or sueorjay@terranova.net. To receive email reminders, please send your request douville@bellsouth.net.

Schedule for all meetings:

Meeting:  Tuesday, Jan. 15, Islamorada Library, MM 81.5

“Facts, Myths and Things Gleaned while Mangrove Tromping” -  Dr. Martin Roessler.

Marty will discuss mangroves from A to Z, including their distribution in the world and in Florida; definition, types and biology of mangroves; plants and animals in mangrove communities; the beneficial role of mangroves; and lots of other interesting facts, all illustrated with photos.

Dr. Roessler received his Ph.D. in Marine Sciences from the Marine Laboratory at the University of Miami in 1967. He taught graduate courses and researched pink shrimp and fishes in Buttonwood Canal and Shark River as well as the effects of power plant effluents on the marine life of Biscayne Bay and Card Sound.  He was involved with pioneering studies on the importance of mangrove production and the connection between mangroves and shrimps and fishes.  In 1973 he entered the environmental consulting field and with his colleagues at Tropical BioIndustries studied mangroves, reared  them in a plant nursery and was involved in revegetation projects.

Field trip: Saturday, January 19.
Time: 10:00 A.M.
Location: Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Bot. State Park (http://www.floridastateparks.org/keylargohammock)

Once slated to become a condominium development, this park contains one of the largest tracts of West Indian tropical hardwood hammock in the United States. It is home to 84 protected species of plants and animals, including wild cotton, mahogany mistletoe, and the American crocodile.  In addition to the hammock, we will have an opportunity to see stands of mangroves and understand first hand the role they play in our environment. 

Directions: For detailed directions please see the printed newsletter
Difficulty: Easy/moderate – walking on smooth paths.

Note: the potluck party in Tavernier has been postponed

Feb. 19 (Marathon): Bob Ehrig - "Key Deer-Ecological Effects on Native Vegetation on Big Pine and No Name Keys"
Feb. 23 field trip: Big Pine Key
Mar. 18 (Islamorada): TBA
Mar. 22 or 23 field trip: TBA
Apr. 15 (Marathon): Janice Duquesnel - "History of Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park"
Apr. 20 field trip: TBA

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December 2007 through Earth Day, April 22 2008

FNPS has launched a New Membership Challenge: Holiday Mega Membership Explosion!  The goal is for every FNPS member to present a gift membership.  There are dozens of holidays besides the “usual” (just look at any calendar!) for holiday giving opportunities through April.  Grand prizes will be given to all chapters that increase their membership by 100% through new and gift memberships (even if not all members give a gift membership).  A gift or new individual membership is $25.

Best wishes, good luck, and happy gifting to all from Lynka Woodbury and Mary Ann Bolla, FNPS Membership Committee Co-Chairs (lwoodbury@fairchildgarden.org, bollam@bellsout.net ).

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Chapter Workday and Volunteer Appreciation Lunch at Everglades National Park:  February 9, 2008

Native Plant Day is March 15, 2008, at Elaine Gordon Enchanted Forest Park (and Arch Creek Park) in North Miami.  Save the date to volunteer and enjoy!  If you would like to help in the planning or have suggestions, please contact Amy Leonard (305-458-0969, aleonar74@yahoo.com) as soon as possible.  Being in a different part of the county will be a new experience, and your input on activities, programs, speakers, publicity and food vendors will be appreciated.

Help wanted. Contact Patty Phares (305-255-6404, pphares@mindspring.com).

  1. Assistant or co-webmaster for the DCFNPS web site.
  2. Assistant or co-editor for Tillandsia.
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Paid Advertising
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Dade Native Plant Workshop.  3rd Tuesdays at 7 p.m., Bill Sadowski Park, 1/2 mile west of Old Cutler Road on SW 176 St.  Plant ID and taxonomy. Bring at least three flowering/fruiting plants of any species (even if not the subject matter).  Jan. 15: Convolvulaceae (Morning Glory family).  Location changed to the Deering Estate. Steve Woodmansee (305-247-6547) or www.regionalconservation.org /ircs/aboutus/Outreach.asp

The Institute for Regional Conservation (IRC).

Tropical Audubon Society. Doc Thomas House, 5530 Sunset Dr., 305-667-7337, www.tropicalaudubon.org for more details and events.  Nonmembers are welcome at all activities.  

Miami-Dade College. 

Marjory Stoneman Douglas Biscayne Nature Center (Crandon Park, Key Biscayne.  Volunteer to help with hammock restoration or beach cleanup, attend a program (Seagrass Adventure, Hammock Hike, Beach Babies), reserve summer camp, or schedule a private party.  305-361-6767, www.biscaynenaturecenter.org.

Volunteer workdays, Miami-Dade Parks Natural Areas Management & the Environmentally Endangered Lands program. Help protect and restore native habitats, learn about invasive non-native plants and our ecosystems. Pre-register: 305-257-0933 x227. Jan 26: Kendall Indian Hammocks (air potato removal), 11345 SW 79 St., 9-noon.  Feb. 9: Florida City Pineland, SW 345 St. & 184 Ave (cleanup), 9-noon.

Pineland Working Group: Pine Rockland Conference, Feb. 27-March 2, 2008.  Two days of local trips and programs (free), then travel to Andros Island (not free).  You do not have to be an environmental professional to participate in the PWG.  See http://fl.water.usgs.gov/Miami/pineland/.

Miami Blue Chapter, North American Butterfly Association.  See www.miamiblue.org or contact Elane Nuehring (305-666-5727, miamiblue@bellsouth.net) for walks and events.  February 3, Quarterly meeting at Castellow Hammock Park, South Dade, 1 pm.  Program TBA.  Come early to butterfly!

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Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park’s 17th Annual Lecture Series, January- March 2008. Programs are Wednesdays through March 26, 7:30pm - 8:30pm at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Visitor Center, MM 102.5 Overseas Highway.  Gate opens at 7 p.m. Free.  Bring a cushion for comfort.  For more information call 305-451-1202. 

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by Pete Button
Illustration by Pete Button
[Reprinted from  September, 1994 Tillandsia,

Photo of coontie with coneI’ve been messing around with coontie for about eight years now and it occurred to me that some of our readers might be inter­ested in the growing, life cycle and other shenanigans of this fascinating, ancient and lovely plant. Edna and I moved to our five acres in deep South Dade (312 Street and 214 Avenue) in 1983. The property is on the rock pine ridge which runs from Coconut Grove to Long Pine Key. It was originally pineland but was cleared many years ago. However, it was never scarified (rock plowed) and planted, so many native plants were allowed to survive along with the Brazilian pepper trees which already invaded the property before we bought it. We started building our house by ourselves (it took two years), but late in 1984 I took a break and decided to explore our overgrown jungle. As I was crawling through the dense undergrowth, something bright red on the ground caught my eye.  I looked closer to see about 50 brilliant red jewels under a very attractive fern-shaped plant.  It was as though someone had poured them out and left them there.  I was fascinated.  I decided to find out as much as I could about this intriguing plant.

Of course, what I was looking at were the seeds of the coontie (Zamia pumila) which had just dropped from the female cone.  Years later, after I had cleared the hateful pepper trees, I think I had found about 40 very mature coontie.  Many are still in the ground where I found them, but some of them I was forced to dig up because of their location.  Invariably these larger coontie were growing in hidden solution holes filled with red clay.  The major underground portion of the coontie is a tuber which tapers down to a long tap root with many branch roots of diminishing size. The tuber is an energy storage device and on some plants which I dug up it was about 16 inches long and 6 inches in diameter. Don’t worry, I saved them all and they are growing happily in large pots and producing lots of seeds.

For the early Indians in the area and later for the Seminoles in the 19th century, the coontie tuber was the basis of the diet.  In its natural state it is poisonous, but with proper treatment it produces an edible flour.  As early as 1853, Dade County reported a thriving business in starch making from coontie, and in the 1870 census eight men listed their profession as starch makers.  Five barrels of roots gave one 250-pound barrel of starch and sold for three to five cents per pound in Key West.  A man and a helper could easily make 200 pounds of starch a week and not half work - the living was easy.  So easy that over the years the supply of coontie became depleted and the industry died out. This, plus the encroachment of development in the rock pine ridge, has caused the coontie to be hard to find.

Coontie is dioecious and the seeds are carried in the female cone which, at maturity, can be seven inches long and four inches in diameter.  The outer skin of the cone is composed of a series of coarse, dark-brown or black curved plates, each covering a seed.  Sometime between October and January the plates will loosen, dry up, and fall off.  At the same time, the umbilical connecting the seed to the cone’s axis will dry up.  At this point the individual seeds will spill out onto the ground, ready to be picked up by some bird or other passing critter such as me.  A single coontie can have as many as 80 to 100 seeds.  Some coontie have a single cone whereas others have multiple cones.  On New Year’s Day in 1993, one coontie with multiple cones yielded 950 seeds!

By mid-January, all the seeds have dropped.  The seed has a hard, light-tan colored shell about three-quarters of an inch in diameter.  When the seed is dropped by the cone, the shell is covered with a bright red or orange resinous skin about an eighth of an inch thick. You can grow coontie with­out removing this skin but the yield will not be too great. However, removing the skin is not easy since it sticks to the shell like epoxy glue and its structure is amorphous.  You can push it around and cuss at it but it doesn’t come off.  Also, I have been told that the skin is carcinogenic, so you should wear gloves when working on the seeds.

To get around this problem, I have developed a procedure which makes it easier to de-skin the seed.  After the final seed harvest in January, I place the seeds in a plywood tray lined with aluminum foil and put the tray out in the open.  This exposes the seeds not only to the weather but, more importantly, to the actinic ultraviolet rays from the sun.  The aluminum foil intensifies this exposure which produces a physical/chemical change in the composition of the coontie seed skin.  I leave the seeds in this “ageing” tray until about April or May.  By then the skins have lost their bright color and are very easy to peel off using the blade of a screwdriver. As a check on this procedure, I kept control seeds unexposed to the sun for the same period. These did not lose their color and were impossible to peel.

After peeling the seeds, I am ready to plant.  I first give the seeds the float test.  I throw them in a bucket of water, and those that float I throw away - they are not viable.  I also do this before I put seeds in the ageing tray.  I find that about 85% of the seeds dropped by the cones are viable.  I plant the seeds in a special bed with five inches of potting soil consisting of 1/3 each muck, sand and wood chips.  The seed is pushed into the soil about one half its diameter.  The bed is covered with 1/2 inch mesh hardware cloth about six inches above the soil.  The purpose of the hardware cloth is not to screen from the sun (it gives very little shade) but to keep birds from stealing the young seedlings.  This is a real problem.  The bed is in full sun.  About five weeks after setting out the seeds, a radicle will emerge from the seed and plunge into the soil.  One or two weeks later a shoot will emerge from the top of the radicle with two green leaflets, and thus a coontie is born!  It will be nourished by the energy stored in the seed until the tuber is developed.  The seed can stay attached to the plant for up to two years unless it is knocked off.

Along about September or October, the young coontie will be about four inches tall and start to touch the protective wire mesh.  It’s time to transplant them to one gallon pots.  I lose a few at this point to the birds. The birds just pull them up, then realize they are not food and throw them down.  If I look around the area, I can usually find the discarded seedlings and put them back in the pots.  After a while, the birds learn and will cease this aggravating behavior.

At this point it is not necessary to stand back to avoid being struck by a rapidly growing coontie.  Unlike bamboo, coontie is not a fast grower. It will take a coontie seedling about three to four years to produce a cone, and if it is a female, the cone will be small, immature, and bear only two or three seeds.  Of course, the pot has to be upgraded to at least a three or seven gallon pot to accommodate this.  To have a female coontie with a really mature cone (one containing 50 to 60 seeds), I would guess that the plant would have to be about ten years old.  This type of growth rate does not boggle the mind.

Before I close, I have to tell you about the sex life of the coontie - it’s amazing.  Both the female and male produce cones for reproduction. However, the cones differ in size, shape, function (obviously), and longevity.  The cones of both sexes first appear in late summer growing from the top of the tuber.  Initially their appearance is similar -cylindrical in shape, reddish dark brown in color, with a surface texture resembling a very miniature shucked ear of corn.  In three or four weeks subtle changes will occur to enable one to tell the difference between the female and male cones.  The male cone becomes somewhat taller and thinner than the shorter and fatter female cone.  The bumps, which resemble the kernels on the small ear of corn, are larger and fewer on the female than they are on the male.

Drawing of coontie with coneSometime in late fall or early winter, the female cone has grown to about 3 to 4 inches long and 2 inches in diameter.  At this point it slightly elongates and opens up the interstices between the bumps or curved platelets and thus exposes somewhat the interior of the cone.  It appears that this is the route of the pollen into the cone.  I have been told that a beetle is the pollen carrier but I have never observed this.  The female cone will ruin extended for about two to four weeks and then retract, closing up the interstices.  The cone will continue to grow for another year.  Its color will become a grayish black and in late fall or early winter, it will drop its seeds, thus completing the cycle.

If the longevity of the female cone is 16 to 18 months, by contrast, that of the male cone is only 4 to 6 months.  However, the male cone is truly astounding and anthropo­morphic.  By the fall of the year it will have grown to about 2 to 3 inches in length and an inch in diameter.  Then an abrupt change occurs.  Almost overnight it increases to about 6 inches long and 1.5 inches in diameter!  It too opens up its interstices to expose the pollen.  In fact, one can flick the shaft with a finger and the pollen will puff out. It will stay in this state for about 2 weeks and then suddenly curl over and go limp - exhausted.  In a few more weeks it will shrivel and dry up, and just disappear.  It makes you think, doesn’t it?

Coontie images on this webpage are from Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Publication FPS-617, original publication date October, 1999. Reviewed May, 2007. and Circular 1439, Published: December 2002. Please visit the EDIS Web site at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

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by Martin Roessler

On November 24, 2007, Tiffany Smith from the Dade County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, led members of the Dade County Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society through the 120 acre Tamiami Pineland Preserve a.k.a. Nixon Smiley Preserve and the recently acquired 28 acre Tamiami Complex Addition. The Nixon Smiley preserve is on the western edge of the rocky pinelands and represents the ecotone between pine and rocky wet prairie.  The addition consists of rocky pinelands, wet prairie and an area dominated by exotics. See the printed newsletter for a detailed field trip report.

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President: Amy Leonard, 305-458-0969, aleonar74@yahoo.com

General information and memberships: Patty Phares (305-255-6404)

Refreshment coordinator, Dade meetings: Patty Harris, 305-262-3763 eve., 305-373-1000 day

DCFNPS Web page: http://dade.fnpschapters.org
Webmaster: Greg Ballinger

FNPS Chapter representative: Lynka Woodbury (305-667 1651x3427,  lwoodbury@fairchildgarden.org)

FNPS Web Page: http://www.fnps.org

FNPS Eco Action Alert List: Send email request to info@fnps.org

FNPS (state) phone: 321-271-6702, info@fnps.org

Tillandsia editors: Patty Phares (305-255-6404, pphares@mindspring.com) and Karen Griffin (305-441-0458, kgriffin@cyberonic.com).

The Dade Chapter Florida Native Plant Society is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to the understanding and preservation of Florida's native flora and natural areas, and promoting native plants in landscapes.

The chapter includes residents of Miami-Dade County and the Keys.
Meetings in Miami-Dade County
are on the 4th Tuesday of most months at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and are free and open to the public. Once a year, instead of the usual meeting, members and their guests are invited to an evening garden tour and social at a member's home.
Meetings in the Keys
are held on 3rd Tuesdays in November through April at varying locations from Key Largo to Key West

2008 FNPS membership rates: Donor $250, Business $125, Supporting $100, Contributing $75 ($25 to endowment), Non-Profit $50, Family $50, Individual $35, Student $15, Library $15, New Member $25, Gift $25, Lifetime $1000.

Please send articles, announcements of local activities and news of interest to the Dade Chapter PO Box or email to the editor (above) by the 15th of each month to be considered for publication the following month.

Advertising rates from $12/month.

© 1999-2007 Dade Chapter Florida Native Plant Society, Inc.

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