The gopher apple, Licania michauxii, is a native shrub which grows much like a ground cover. It is in the family Chrysobalanaceae which makes it a relative of the Coco plum. The specific name, Michauxii, honors Andre Michauxii a French botanist who originally described the plant in the late 1700's.
The plant spreads to form a ground cover by its primary stems. The primary stems of the plant grow under ground, creeping and spreading. When branchlets from the primary stems do reach above the ground they grow only three to twelve inches in height, and grow rather slowly.
The foliage is evergreen, however, in Central and North Florida it is generally semi-evergreen. The leaves grow alternately and resemble a narrow oak leaf. Leaf sizes very from one and a half inches to four inches. A waxy cuticle on the upper surface of the leaves gives them a glossy appearance, as well as tolerance to extreme drought once the plant is established.
It blooms in May and June producing clusters of small yellowish-white to greenish-white flowers.
The fruit, when ripe, is an ivory color with tinges of red or purple. It is oval in shape, up to one inch in length, and contains a single pit. The fruit is sought after by many animals including the gopher tortoise.
The gopher apple is an often overlooked element of many Florida ecosystems. It will thrive in barren soil, in full sun, from acid scrub habitat to alkaline beach dune habitat.
It is extremely difficult to transplant, and equally difficult to produce root cuttings from. The best chance at propagation is through seed. Many native plant nurseries in our area carry gopher apple for immediate landscape use.
by Sharon LaPlante
Bell, C. Ritchie and B. J. Taylor. Florida Wildflowers and Roadside Plants. Laurel Hill Press: Chapel Hill, NC. 1982
Taylor, Walter Kingsley. The Guide to Florida Wildflowers. Taylor Publishing: Dallas, TX 1992
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