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Strong leathery green Coontie leaves reach for the light

The short, woody stem and rootstock of this primitive fernlike plant (once used as a starch source by the Indians) is almost completely underground and produces a terminal crown of stiff, evergreen, pinnate leaves up to 3 feet long. The brown, fleshy, erect, female or seed-bearing cones are pendent when mature.

 

From "The Forgotten Frontier: Florida Through the Lens of Ralph Middleton Munroe" by Arva Moore Parks:

 

'Behind the hammock land the pine and palmetto country seemed to go on forever. Sending roots into the crevices of stone, the tall pine and its companions, the bushy palmetto and the fernlike comptie (Zamia), thrived in what seemed like solid rock. Althought not as glamorous as the hammock, the pineland was the backbone of the land. The heart of the pine became the foundation of the pioneer home; the palmetto, for thatch, became the roof; and the starch made from the root of the comptie filled the pionerer's stomach."

 

The short, woody stem and rootstock of this primitive fernlike plant (once used as a starch source by the Indians) is almost completely underground and produces a terminal crown of stiff, evergreen, pinnate leaves up to 3 feet long. The brown, fleshy, erect, female or seed-bearing cones are pendent when mature.

 

Cootie is sporadic in pinelands and hammocks throughout nearly all peninsular Florida and the Keys. It also occurs in the West Indies. Florida Coontie is the essential host plant for the colorful Atala butterfly.

 

Arch Creek was an early Tequesta Indian settlement here in North Miami. And Arch Creek is spanned by a natural limestone bridge. Early photographs of Miami show the bridge in all its beauty. Compromised now by encroaching housing and roadways.

 

Arch Creek, and the area surrounding it, was one of six Tequesta Indian occupation sites built along Dade County estutaries. The Tequestas established other campsites at the Oleta River, Surfside, Little River, the Miami River, and Snapper Creek. Arch Creek, however, was unique. It had a natural limestone bridge spanning 60 feet, from which the Indians could fish and which provided a raised, dry highway to the Everglades.

 

Other factors contributed to the idyllic setting at Arch Creek. There was an oak hammock near the creek, which provided shade, as well as edible plants, nuts and berries.Biscayne Bay, less than a half mile away, was a prime food source for the Tequestas; there they caught shellfish, shark, manatee and turtle. North of the hammock were pine flatiands, which sheltered the all-important coontie plant (Zamia integrifolia), whose roots the Indians ground to make an edible starch product.

 

Tequesta habitation sites characteristically have midden areas, or Indian garbage dumps. The gradual decomposition of refuse, including plant material and animal bones, produces a rich black soil. Many artifacts have been preserved in the soil, and archaeologists have uncovered many of them, such as bone points, shell tools and pottery shards. During their centuries of occupation (from c. 400 A.D. to c. 1200 A.D.), the Arch Creek Tequestas had what appears to be a fairly comfortable lifestyle, supported by the abundant natural resources at the site.

 

The Coontie Mill (see pictures of coontie in my set, Woods, weeds and streams.) The Tequestas were the first people to recognize the value of Arch Creek, but they were not the only ones. Around 1858 two ambitious pioneers used the creek and its natural bridge as a site for a coontie starch mill. These early entrepreneurs learned how to clean the poisonous roots, and dammed up the waterway under the bridge, diverting the flow through a sluice they carved out of a solid limestone bank. The water turned a wooden wheel attached to a nail-studded grinder, which mashed the cootie roots into a paste-like pulp. The resulting starch was then soaked and strained to remove any remaining poison. Laid out in wooden racks, the starch dried quickly, and the sun bleached it white. But coontie starch was not as successful as the pioneers thought, and the mill was abandoned several years later. The water sluice was filled in and paved over, and was not discovered until archaeologists excavated it in 1972.

 

Arch Creek East Environmental Preserve, North Miami, FL.

See my set, Woods, weeds and streams.

 

Florida Arrowroot, Coontie, Comptie, Zamia pumila

Arch Creek East Environmental Preserve, North Miami, FL.

See my set, Woods, weeds and streams.

www.susanfordcollins.com

  

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Taken on October 5, 2010