Plant profile: Pond Apple

pond appleThe Everglades is home to an array of plants that thrive in the wet, subtropical climate. Although mangroves and grasses come to many people’s minds when thinking about plant life in the Everglades, we’d like to profile a plant that many people might not know about that is native to the area: the pond apple.

The pond apple, Annona glabra, is a shrub or small tree with evergreen leaves, white/pale yellow thick-petal flowers and large fruit.  This plant is also known as alligator apple, swamp apple, corkwood, and monkey apple. Along with the Everglades, this plant is also native in the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America, South America, West Africa, and South Asia.

They can grow up to 30 to 40 feet tall by 10 to 20 feet wide. As a young pond apple tree, the bark is gray and scale; as the tree gets older, the bark becomes fissured and can turn to a reddish-brown color. These trees can be found along streams and rivers banks, canal banks, slough swamps, freshwater ponds, lakes, and strands. The pond apple is known to flourish around bald cypress trees. They tolerate salt water and cannot grow in dry soil.

In the past, there was a pond apple forest at the southern end of Lake Okeechobee, but due do drainage over the years this habitat was destroyed. Still, the largest numbers of this species of tree are found in the Everglades, but they can also be found throughout other areas of Florida.

Native Indians and settlers to the Everglades ate the fruit off this tree, but it is now considered unsavory for humans to eat. Most of the fruit will mature and fall of the trees in the fall and winter. When they drop, they are green or green/yellow in color. The fruit has a sweet aroma and the pulp is fleshy, mealy, and pithy. The flesh is yellow/orange in color and is filled with more than 100 dark-colored seeds within. The seeds are poisonous, and powder from the seeds have been known to blind people. The seeds and leaves of this plant are known to be insecticidal. More recent studies are showing that the seeds contain anticancer compound, which may be able to be used medically. Birds, raccoons, squirrels, and alligators have been known to eat the pond apple fruit.

Not only does the pond apple provide food for many animals in the Everglades, it also provides shelter and creates a safe haven for many, as well.

Visit the Pond Apple’s Habitat

Explore where this fruit-filled tree thrives while on an airboat ride. An airboat can take you through many places in the Everglades with the opportunity to see this plant, along with hundreds of other species of plants, many of which are unique only to the River of Grass. To book an airboat tour, call Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours at 800-368-0065 or click here.

Laurel Wilt Disease

The Everglades is a distressed ecosystem. Usually, climate change, pollution, and human development come to mind when the topic of a hurting wetland comes up. Sadly, the Everglades are currently facing another threat to its future: a fungus.  This fungus goes by the name Laurel Wilt, and it is a tree disease that showed up in the Everglades in 2011.

Laurel Wilt is one of the most invasive tree diseases in North America. According to a conference on the disease held at the University of Florida, the disease has killed hundreds of millions of trees, which in turn has affected and damaged the surrounding ecosystems. Once infected, a tree can die within a couple of weeks; in that same forest, any tree less than three inches in diameter will be dead in under four years.

The fungus is introduced to the trees through an Asian insect called the redbay ambrosia beetle. The trees cannot handle this nonnative fungus. These beetles are extremely small, measuring at only 1/16 of an inch. The fungus this beetle carries is pathogenic. After they burrow into the tree, the fungus enters the wood. A female beetle can reproduce on the tree without needing the male; the offspring leave the tree to attack surrounding trees. Trees will have wilted stems and leaves and have a dark stained color underneath their bark. It only takes one female beetle to kill a tree. Since 2011, the disease has killed swamp bay trees across more than 330,000 acres of the Everglades.

Only plants in the Laurel family are affected by the disease. One of the biggest plants affect by the Laurel Wilt are avocados. In 2015, nearly, 9000 avocado trees were killed by the disease. Farmers have been spraying pesticides to control the beetle; however, these sprays cannot be used in the Everglades or other wild areas. Redbay trees across Florida, and five other states, have also been affected.

When a tree and surrounding trees die, a space opens within the canopy. With dead trees and open canopies, the ecosystem is now vulnerable to invasive plants that have caused a drop in mammal populations in the Everglades. Such invasive plants include: melaleuca fern, Australian pine, and Brazilian pepper.

Fighting Laurel Wilt Disease
There is currently no effective way to control or stop these beetles and disease. Chemicals can be used to kill ambrosia beetles once they’re confirmed living on a farm, but this isn’t the case for the Everglades. The South Florida Water Management District oversees restoration in the Everglades and is improving its monitoring and maintenance of any affected areas in the wetland. Invasive plants and insects are a big problem in the Everglades, and officials are trying to find the best ways to fight them.

Visit the Everglades
The Everglades are a fragile ecosystem; this wetland has been up against years of damage from climate change, rising sea levels, and development from humans. With other invasive threats, the Everglades are continuing to be in a battle for its own survival. By being educated on the topic and taking preventative measures, there are ways to preserve the Everglades.

The best way to experience the Everglades, while its still around, is by airboat. Captain Mitch’s Airboat Tours take you all around the beautiful wetland. To schedule your airboat tour, click here or call 239-695-3377.