This species has often been misidentified as Zamia pumila L., a species that occurs in the Caribbean but is not found in Florida[
Encephalartos pruniferus Sweet
Palmifolium floridanum (A.DC.) Kuntze
Palmifolium integrifolium (L.f.) Kuntze
Palmifolium medium (Jacq.) Kuntze
Palmifolium tenue (Willd.) Kuntze
Zamia angustifolia floridana (A.DC.) Regel
Zamia floridana A.DC.
Zamia media Jacq.
Zamia silvicola Small
Zamia subcoriacea H.L.Wendl. ex J.Schust.
Zamia tenuis Willd.
Zamia umbrosa Small
Common Name: Florida Arrowroot
Plant growing in the Reserva Ecologica Varahicacos, Varadero, Cuba.
Photograph by: Pato Novoa
Florida arrowroot is an evergreen cycad producing a crown of 2 - 15 fern-like leaves 20 - 100cm long from a usually subterranean and tuberous stem that is 3 - 10cm in diameter, occasionally to 25cm[
The starch-rich stems and roots were a main source of flour for the native peoples of southeastern N. America, and some people still prepare it today. These peoples are attributed with increasing the plant’s distribution. The plants were exploited commercially for the production of starch in the early 20th century[
], but are little used today. The plant is grown as an ornamental in gardens[
The species is abundant across its range but has declined substantially in parts of Florida over the past 90 years (estimated at 20%) mainly due to habitat destruction for housing developments and agriculture. It has therefore been classified as 'Near Threatened' in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species(2011)[
The fleshy seeds contain a toxic glycoside that causes headaches, vomiting, stomach pains and diarrhoea if ingested[
The juice from the plant is very poisonous[
The starch obtained from the stem is poisonous unless thoroughly cooked[
Southeast N. America - Georgia, Florida; Caribbean - Bahamas; Cayman Islands; Cuba; Puerto Rico.
Open coastal areas and sand dunes; pinelands; closed canopy oak hammocks; tropical forest. It is most commonly found in soil over limestone and in sand near sea level or in dry pinelands subjected to periodic wildfires[
|Conservation Status||Near Threatened
|Other Uses Rating||
|Cultivation Status||Ornamental, Wild
Native to the subtropics and low tropics, and tolerant of light frosts, this species can also be cultivated in warm temperate areas that do not experience heavy frosts.
Prefers a lightly shaded position and a well drained sandy soils[
]. Established plants can tolerate at least some drought[
]. Plants are tolerant of somewhat salty soils[
A dioecious species, both male and female forms need to be grown if seed is required[
The stems and roots are a rich source of starch[
]. To make flour, the roots are first chopped into pieces. They are then pounded with a mortar and pestle. The pulp is then washed with water and the starch is allowed to settle to the bottom. Then the water is drained and the remaining paste is left to ferment for several days. At the end of the fermentation process, the starch is set in the sun to dry. When dry, the powdery, cornmeal-like flour is baked into bread[
The plant parts contain central nervous system toxins, which must be removed before consumption[
]. There is a poisonous principle in the stems that is destroyed by thorough cooking[
The plant forms clumps and, in time, can make a good ground cover[
Seed - remove the fleshy coating and surface sow on damp sand. Germination is best at around 23 - 29°c[
], but can take several months or even years[
]. Pot up young seedlings into a rich, moist medium, as soon as they are large enough to handle and grow on at high temperatures without any check to growth until 2 - 3 leaves have been produced at one time, otherwise they may enter dormancy[