AskDefine | Define coontie

Dictionary Definition

coontie n : small tough woody zamia of Florida and West Indies and Cuba; roots and half-buried stems yield an arrowroot [syn: Florida arrowroot, Seminole bread, Zamia pumila]

Extensive Definition

Zamia integrifolia is a small, tough, woody cycad native to the southeast United States (Florida, Georgia), the Bahamas and the Caribbean south to Grand Cayman and Puerto Rico (possibly extinct on this island). The common name is Coontie or Koonti, derived from the Seminole Native American language conti hateka.
This cycad produces reddish seed cones with a distinct acuminate tip. The leaves are 20-100 cm long, with 5-30 pairs of leaflets (pinnae). Each leaflet is linear to lanceolate or oblong-obovate, 8-25 cm long and 0.5-2 cm broad, entire or with indistinct teeth at the tip. They are often revolute, with prickly petioles. It is similar in many respects to the closely related Zamia pumila, but that species differs in the more obvious toothing on the leaflets.
This is a low-growing plant, with trunk that grows to 3-25 cm high and diameter, but is often subterranean. Over time, it forms a multi-branched cluster, with a large, tuberous root system, which is actually an extension of the above-ground stems. The leaves can be completely lost during cold periods, with the plant lying dormant in its tuberous root system, allowing this cycad to be relatively cold hardy. The plant can survive up to USDA region 8b (this can be quite northern: for instance, Seattle is 8b). The stems and leaves will regenerate after the cold period subsides with full foliage (Whitelock, 2002).
Like other cycads, Zamia integrifolia is dioecious, having male or female plants. The male cones are cylindrical, growing to 5-16 cm long; they are often clustered. The female cones are elongate-ovoid and grow to 5-19 cm long and 4-6 cm in diameter.
Zamia integrifolia inhabits a variety of habitats with well-drained sands or sandy loam soils. It prefers filtered sunlight to partial shade. Populations are presently limited to Florida, southeastern Georgia, central Cuba and the Dominican Republic. It was also native in southern Puerto Rico and Haiti, but appears to have been extirpated from those areas due to intensive land use.
This plant is poisonous, producing a toxin that affects the gastrointestinal tract and nervous system. The toxin can however be removed by careful leaching, and the roots and half-buried stems were used by Native American people (notably the Tequesta and Mayaimi Indians, the Seminole Indians and the Maroons) for their yield of a sago-like starch. The root is typically prepared for food by grinding it using a wooden mortar and pestle. The pulp is then saturated and drained. The drained fluid is allowed to dry and the resulting yellowish flour is used in the preparation of various foods. In industrial preparation, multiple macerations serve to bleach the flour to a whiter color. Commercial production of starch (using roots gathered from wild plants) occurred in southern Florida from the 1830s until the 1920s. The starch was sold as "arrowroot" until the Food and Drug Administration banned the practice in 1925. The last commercial "coontie starch" plant in Florida was destroyed by the 1926 Miami Hurricane.
Controversy has long existed over the classification of Zamia in Florida; at one extreme all the American populations have been included in a broadly defined Zamia pumila (Eckenwalder 1980), and at the other several species have been recognized under various names (e.g., Z. augustifolia, Z. floridana, Z. silvicola, and Z. umbrosa). The Flora of North America treats all of the American populations as Z. integrifolia. Genetically, the differences between populations cannot be explained by habitat variability. Studies conducted by Ward (1978) showed that five different Florida populations of Z. integrifolia with identical cultivation produced distinct leaf morphology, suggesting that there may be too much genetic diversity amongst these Florida Z. integrifolia, not to mention geographically isolated populations, to consider them a single species.

References

coontie in Italian: Zamia integrifolia
coontie in Czech: Zamia integrifolia
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