Coontie: From Staff of Life to Threatened Species in Florida

Date and Time: 
Thursday, 11 May, 2017 - 15:30
, Anna - USF St. Petersburg

The only North American member of the ancient cycad group, Zamia floridana was once widespread in tropical Florida, and was a source of food for humans and other animals for millennia.  Its caudices provided a staple starch used by the indigenous peoples of Florida to make a bread known as kunti hatke.  Foraging groups like the Calusa harvested it in large quantities. When Europeans arrived in the 16th century, they also used coontie as food and a thriving industry existed for over 200 years. Because the unprocessed caudex contains toxic cyanide compounds, processing was a complex procedure; yet, the product was so valuable that it was still profitable. Now, populations of these slow-growing plants have become attenuated and their collection from the wild is outlawed.  Zamia floridana and the important role that it plays in Florida’s indigenous culture and sensitive ecosystem is in danger of being lost.