Bahama wild coffee
Bahama wild coffee is part of the Rubiaceae family, which is composed of many well-liked plants, such as firebush (Hamelia patens), gardenia (Gardenia sp.), and Ethiopian coffee (Coffea arabica). With a genus name like Psychotria, one would expect this New World coffee to be just as mind-awakening as the black drink served in coffee shops. However, American coffees were granted this genus based on medicinal uses thought to “give life” by indigenous peoples. “Coffee” as a common name was used for our Florida native species based on physical comparison with the famous Ethiopian coffee. Both have shiny, evergreen leaves of similar shape, white flowers, and red fruits. But, someone brewing beans from Bahama wild coffee would just get a headache without the palatable taste.
Bahama wild coffee is considered endangered by the state of Florida, but, as many would guess, this plant also grows in the Bahamas. One of the last places to see this rare shrub in Florida is a botanical state park in Key Largo, where it prefers growing in partial shade and moist soils of rockland hammocks. A patch of Bahama wild coffee can provide safe cover for terrestrial wildlife and nectar for airborne pollinators. One such visitor could be Florida’s state butterfly, the zebra heliconian (Heliconius charithonia), which floats in the shadows more often than other diurnal lepidoptera. Let this black- and yellow-striped creature lead you down the Wild Florida Trail to our native coffee in the Vicky C. and David Byron Smith Children’s Garden at Naples Botanical Garden.
Author: Andee Naccarato, Department of Education and Conservation, Naples Botanical Garden
Originally published in the News-Press.