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Coontie (Florida Arrowroot)

Zamia floridana

Coonti

In South Florida, indigenous people (Seminole tribe) and European settlers ground the root, soaked it overnight and then rinsed with running water for several hours. The resulting paste was fermented and then dried into a powder. Traditional dishes made using the coontie plant were Seminole Bread, Arrowroot biscuits and arrowroot pudding.

Coontie is a slow growing cycad, typically reaching 2-4’ in height with a 3-5’ spread. The root can be harvested and processed for starch but the caudex (the woody part of the stem and root) is poisonous if not processed properly.

By 1845, settlers were harvesting and processing coontie on an industrial level. Several commercial factories in South Florida processed coontie in order to manufacture arrowroot biscuits, thus drastically reducing wild populations.

Unfortunately, Coontie is not currently grown or harvested for use as a food. It is grown and sold as a landscaping plant only.

Besides being used as a food source in the past, coontie is a primary food source for the Atala butterfly when it is in its larval stage. This butterfly was thought to be extinct in 1965 but has been making a comeback since wild coontie has increased in number. However, because of habitat loss due to development in Florida, wild populations will probably not return to previous numbers.

This nomination was researched by biology teacher Cindy Joseph’s students at Cypress Bay High School in 2015. The students learned about Florida’s indigenous plants and their cultural use by Native Americans and in the history of South Florida. They concluded their project by planting several coontie on campus!

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