Wavy-blue-striped, dark-brown-eyed Peacock rests on shadowy Coontie
White Peacock and Atala butterflies are frequent visitors to my beloved Coontie. It's such a wonderful story of overuse and reintroduction. Unlike the Peacock, the Atala can only lay its eggs on the Coontie. Without it, it almost became extinct.
Wild Coonties’ demise began with starch: Long before Europeans arrived in Florida, Native Americans used Coontie as a source of starch. Coontie, in fact, is a Seminole word that means “bread” or “white root” because the roots can be made into flour.
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."
Cootie is sporadic in pinelands and hammocks throughout nearly all peninsular Florida and the Keys. In an effort to preserve the Atala, the coontie is being used increasingly in landscaping. Here in Miami, it is growing at Arch Creek East Environmental Preserve. Arch Creek was an early Tequesta Indian settlement here in North Miami. 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.
The Tequesta Indians thrived in Arch Creek and the surrounding area. 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 flatlands, which sheltered the all-important coontie plant (Zamia integrifolia), whose roots the Indians ground to make an edible starch product.
Today Coontie is being reintroduced by Coontie lovers like me and landscapers across Florida. And the magnificent blue and red Atala butterflies are finally back!
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Miami FL