Coontie is a small palmlike perennial plant that grows to a height of about 3 ft (0.9 m). Coontie forms a colony of suckers that slowly grow into mounds 5-6 ft (1.5-2.1 m) wide. The glossy dark green pinnate leaves are 3 ft (0.9 m) long with narrow pinnae (leaflets) 4-6 in (10.2-1.8 cm) long by 0.25 in ( cm) wide. This species is dioecious, having male or female reproductive parts (called "cones") present on separate plants. In late winter the rusty-brown male and female cones emerge from the ground. Males produce pollen that fertilizes the female cones that mature in late autumn when the shiny orange seeds are released.
Its evergreen leaves are fine in texture and resemble those of a fern. They are produced from a thick underground storage root in one or more flushes each year. This cycad has a much softer appearance and is without the sharp edges of some of the other popular cycads used in the landscape such as Cycas revoluta.
Zamia pumila inhabits a variety of habitats with well drained sands or sandy loam soils throughout peninsular Florida.
Coontie will tolerate some salt drift from the sea and can be planted near, but not directly on the beach. The coontie is susceptable to potentially lethal infestations of scale insects that require treatment with pesticide. Light: Full sun or dense shade.
Moisture: Water when dry.
Hardiness: USDA Zones 8-10.
Propagation: Propagated from seeds but young plants grow slowly. You will probably prefer buying potted plants which are readily available from nursery or garden centers throughout Florida and in similar climates.
Coontie is perfect for woodland and shady gardens where it provides rich evergreen backdrop for flowering species all year long. It works well as a transition plant near larger specimens. Creates a tropical affect when planted by the trunks of pine trees in woodland settings. Coontie is perfect for xeriscapes and as a low maintenance ground cover. The coontie is one of the best ground covers as it evergreen and actually "consumes" trash which sifts down beneath its arching leaves where it is hidden from view to decompose, rust or otherwise degrade inoffensively.
The coontie is very happy growing in pots, urns and containers both indoors and out. It is a popular species for bonsai where it is grown in sand, often with its fleshy underground storage root artfully exposed.
This is a rugged but subtle accent plant that boasts a deep green color and unique form. Although a slow grower, coontie is very tough, drought resistant and easy to maintain. It is difficult to transplant coontie due to its long tap roots and the operation is rarely successful. Do not remove plants from the wild.
Florida's indigenous peoples and later European settlers processed the coontie's large storage root to extract an edible starch. For this reason the coontie was often commonly called Seminole bread during the late 1800s.
Zamia floridana is an older name for this species so you may see coontie referred to by this synonym in some publications. The coontie has a larger and more tender relative called the cardboard palm (Zamia furfuracea).