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
Zamia integrifolia is an evergreen plant 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[
]. Younger plants produce a single crown of leaves, older plants are usually multi-headed[
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 on a commercial basis for the production of starch in the 19th and early 20th century, but this led to huge population losses of the Cycads to the point where there were no longer sufficient plants to make it profitable to exploit them[
]. 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[
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Zamia integrifolia is native to the subtropics and low tropics of southeastern N. America and has shown itself tolerant of light frosts. The plant 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[
This species should always be planted with the tuber slightly below ground level in order to protect it in times of freezing weather. Even if its leaves are killed by frost, it will send up a new flush as soon as the weather warms[
Cycad species can usually be transplanted easily even when quite large. The best time for moving them is just before the beginning of a new growing season, the roots being trimmed if they are damaged and perhaps some leaves being removed. New roots should develop quickly as the season progresses[
Species in this genus form structures known as coralloid roots. These roots branch off from the taproot or secondary roots and are distinctive in that they grow laterally or upward, forming a nodular mass at the apex. These coralloid roots occur slightly below or slightly above the soil surface and generally contain cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae. These are able to fix atmospheric nitrogen and make it available as a nutrient to the plant. The ability to extract this important nutrient from the air explains how many cycad species are able to survive on almost sterile soils[
A dioecious species, with individual plants producing either all male or all female cones. Therefore both male and female forms of the plant need to be grown if seed is required[
]. On very rare occasions, usually when a plant has been under severe stress, it can change sex and produce either all female or all male cones[
All parts of this plant are potentially toxic and should not be eaten unless effective measures are taken to remove the toxins.
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[
A starch obtained from the stems has been used as a laundry starch[
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[