Grapes, Plums, and Pigeons
Coccoloba is a large genus of Neotropical trees and shrubs belonging to the Buckwheat Family. Two species are found as far North as Southern Florida, where they are important and distinctive components of coastal plant communities.
Sea Grape, Coccoloba uvifera, is a broad-canopied tree commonly growing in sand or very sandy soil behind the first dune line on beaches or in coastal hammocks inland from mangroves. Sometimes it can be found along the shore just inland of the high tide line. The species is both salt and drought tolerant. Depending on location, Sea Grape can grow as a medium-tall tree with a mound-like shape, or be wind- sculpted and sand-blasted into a sparser, irregular form. It can also be found as a thicket or tall groundcover that helps anchor and stabilize beaches. Its dense branches and thick foliage shelter wildlife; it’s an important nectar source for several butterfly species. Female trees bear tasty fruit, a food source for birds and mammals. The fully ripe fruit can be eaten by people, too. It makes excellent jam or jelly.
Pigeon Plum, Coccoloba diversifolia, is a medium-sized coastal tree in South Florida. It’s less salt-tolerant than Sea Grape; typically found in coastal hammocks or behind protective dunes. Pigeon Plum is narrower and smaller leaved, too.
|Pigeon Plum Foliage|
Mature trees are irregularly vase-shaped, less subject to being shaped by challenging environmental conditions.As indicated by the specific name of the species, diversifolia, Pigeon Plum leaves occur in various sizes. The blooming trees attract their own suite of butterflies.
The small “plums” are extremely sought after by many birds, most notably the White-Crowned Pigeon, Patagioenas leucocephala. The birds also consume Sea Grape fruit. Declining populations of this frugivorous wild pigeon are extremely habitat and food source sensitive, and are subjected to hunting pressure in the Caribbean.
In the U.S., this elegant bird seems to be highly intolerant of disturbance and occurs only in extreme South Florida and the Keys.
|White-Crowned Pigeon, Patagioenas leucocephala|