This week's feature plant is the Pond Apple:
Pond apple is a swamp tree (up to 40 feet tall) with glossy green leaves, yellowish flowers with red bases, and fruits that taste nothing like apples from the grocery store. The pond apple fruit has been likened to the shape of a pear or mango, with an ether scent and poor taste. Even though pond apple fruits are not popular human food, ripe fruits may drop into the water and provide food for wildlife, such as raccoons or alligators. Humans used pond apple wood to make bottle corks, floats for fishing lines, and rafts. The seeds were used to poison fish.
Pond apple naturally occurs in Florida in wet areas with organic soils, including swamps and sloughs. Historically, extensive pond apple habitat occurred along the southern rim of Lake Okeechobee but has been cleared for agriculture. Recent restoration of that pond apple habitat may benefit our wading birds and endangered Okeechobee gourd (Cucurbita okeechobeensis). Other than south Florida, pond apple is native to Caribbean islands, Mexico, Central and South America, and west Africa. Pond apple is an invasive species in Australian wetlands.
Here in south Florida, pond apple may be featured along the shores of ponds or in a water garden. Over time, pond apples grown in wet conditions will develop interesting forms with wide buttressed trunks. Flowering typically occurs April through June with fruit ripening into the autumn. Visit the Preserve’s boardwalk at the Naples Botanical Garden to experience a remnant pond apple slough habitat. Pond apple is also featured in the Children’s Garden and Water Garden.
Author: Andee Naccarato, Department of Education and Conservation, Naples Botanical Garden
Originally published by the News-Press.