Coonties - Sudden Death?

palmcityflFebruary 4, 2008

I posted this in the Palms & Cycads forum - two other posters said they experienced the same problem but had no answer. I'm posting here in hopes that a native plan expert will know the answer.

I've tried to grow coonties (zamia) in South Florida without luck. They are native to Florida, but there are several varieties. I'm not sure which one I have, but nurseries here sell them for $20 each. The plant will thrive for some months, then within a period of a few days will suddenly collapse, turn brown and die. Of the ten plants I purchased last summer, six have suffered this "sudden death", all at different times. This seems to happen after the seed pods burst open and drop their red seeds on the ground. Do coonties die after they produce seed? Do coonties have a short life span? This has occured in zone 10b (Davie, Fl) as well as 9b (Stuart, Fl), my current lcoation.

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
dghays(Z10A FL Brevard)

My female has dropped fruit twice and still going strong, and mine is only 2' across. Since there's huge specimens which must be way older than mine, there must be life after seed. Mine are about 4 or 5 years old. Give us more info about your soil, watering, etc. Perhaps when they're roots are getting into your native soil much, they die for some reason.


    Bookmark   February 4, 2008 at 4:45PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
KaraLynn(z9 FL, Inverness, Citrus)

Coonties don't die after they produce seeds. I've had the same thing happen to a couple smaller coonties that I bought at a chain store. In both cases the tap root had rotted away. Large plants I bought from a private nursery faired much better and are now florishing. It may be that the plants from the chain stores are just not as healthy as the ones you get from private nurseries.


    Bookmark   February 5, 2008 at 8:53AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hmm...I have never heard of Coontie Sudden Death Syndrome (CSDS for short).

Coonties, from my experience growing them and visiting many places that have them planted in TOUGH and demanding situations (i.e: Melbourne Beach on 192 and Sebastian Inlet) live for many many years.

Coonties do not require, essentially, any watering once they have been well-established. Do you water or irrigate? Is your soil well-draining or constantly wet? Have you taken any samples of your specimens to your nearby county extension Master Gardeners or nursery?

    Bookmark   February 5, 2008 at 4:22PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
cycadjungle(z9b Cent FL)

Coonties are very easy to grow, but you do have to understand them to know what problem you are having. To start though, an old plant in a habitat that allows them to get old can be as old as 300 years. There are some 300 year old plants growing in Crystal River and I just saw one that was probably around 100 years old when I went to Cedar Key a couple of months ago.
You could have a few problems, but I guess the first question would be did you dig the plants up and find the stem had rotted, or did you assume the plant was dead just because all the leaves browned out and died? First of all, I have found a few ecotypes, like the one from Dade county and the ones growing around Fanning Springs to be naturally deciduous. What they will do is drop all their leaves and then flush in the spring. You may still have good plant under the ground and don't know it. If your plant have rotted,lets just say you got a hold of one of these types. You might see the plant dry up and then maybe water it extra to bring it back. You are now watering a plant that doesn't want too much moisture already and with no leaves, it can not respirate to take away the extra moisture and it can rot.
Another possibility that someone else already mentioned, and I should have mentioned first, if you have bad drainage and water at all, then a cycad like this will rot sure enough. In lower areas, wet areas, or places that have clay or rock under the ground it is best to mound up the bed first and then plant plants like this.
Another aspect of these plants is that if the ecotype that naturally grows in the shade, like most of the wide leaflet types and you grow it in all day full sun, the leaves will start looking bad towards the end of the season. Thin leaflet types hold up better in the sun, but then even these thin leaflet types are in two categories, the ones that seem to be fairly robust and think and the ones that I mentioned before that many times go deciduous.
A possibility that is probably unlikely, but if a cycad is not totally healthy in the first place and it produces a lot of seeds, this can kill the plant. A healthy female king sago that produces a full head of seeds can use up, up to 60% of the starch content of the stem just to provide for the seeds. If an unhealthy sago did this, it could die. A healthy sago gets through the ordeal and then rests for the next year and then will usually produce a cone again. If a small stemmed cycad, like a small coontie, can do something that looks like imploding. It uses up all the starch in the stem providing for the seeds and the stem will collapse into itself to the point that all you have is the outside skin that is papery thin.
Anyway, I could keep going, but chances are one of these possibilities is probably what you are experiencing.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2008 at 10:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

interesting. in all my outdoorsyness in fla, i have never seen a coontie in the wild. i'd started to doubt their 'native' status, but now cycadjungle has put that doubt to rest...

where do you find em in the wild?

    Bookmark   February 6, 2008 at 6:41PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
cycadjungle(z9b Cent FL)

I am not into telling people in public forums any exact location of any cycad species in the wild. If you were to e-mail me and tell me where you live, I could probably tell you the closest plants that I know of in your particular area. If you are on the east coast, most of them have been wiped out. In fact,New River in Ft. Lauderdale was known by the Seminoles as "coontie hatchee" because the whole area was covered in coontie. Even 20 years ago when I moved up here from Hollywood, you could barely find any single plants. There are more areas on the west coast though that haven't been wiped out. (I see you are 9a) For general maps on east coast and west coast distribution and a little more info, I wrote an article about 10 years ago on some of the different types of coonties. This should be interesting reading for any native Florida person.(I am included, you couldn't get me to live anywhere else)

    Bookmark   February 7, 2008 at 2:31PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

So maybe my coonties aren't really dead, they just dropped all of their leaves. I'll wait for spring for any new growth. They are planted in full sun and in a well-drained location.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2008 at 10:58PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
cycadjungle(z9b Cent FL)

They might be just fine. The way to tell now would be to dig down with your hands and see if the main stem, (or caudex)is hard or if it is mushy or rotted totally. If the stem is firm it is just fine. You would want to fertilize it with a decent fertilizer early March and you should get a good flush within the month.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2008 at 11:23PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I noticed that the coontie population at Fairchild Garden in Miami appears to be in serious decline as well. Where there were many, now there are few. No sign of the Atala Hairstreak butterfly. These plants were well established last year and looked good all year; now they look very bad. You might consider contacting Fairchild. They have cycad experts who may have ideas. I have lost half of my coontie plantings in Miami Beach in the same way. Perhaps conditions in the first two years are key to the survival of a newly planted specimen.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2008 at 1:48PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Sudden Death is ridiculous. A frost last year wiped out all vegetation on 100,000 Plants and they came back in spring 99.9%
Some folks water and bring on root rot.
Don't forget we are dealing with a Conifer, not a palm.
Zamia Floridana/Pumia is a fantastic and hardy plant.
I know, I look out at millions every single day!


    Bookmark   August 17, 2009 at 9:29PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
neonrider(USDA 8A ^ Sunset 31 ^ Mid-SC)

Exactly same story here: Sudden Death within weeks. Bought mine at LOWE'S (~$22). Kept in an original pot for a couple weeks, did fine, then planted in the ground in spring. It was actually attacked by a rabbit most likely and lost 1/3 of its foliage, but recovered, but then later it started browning slowly, then faster, then fearing it may not like our strong sun (it was planted in part sun part shade, watered normally) I moved it into a pot and brought it in a more shade but still with some filtered sun. It kept on browning all leaves browned and all stems browned and dried. I'm not sure if its dead. At LOWE'S there were some with the round "root/body" (?) under soil level and some above soil level and others half way above/under. No one knew which way is the correct way. Mine was 1/2 under half above. Same as Wollemia Nobilis (two plants died no matter what I did) its a finicky plant and I prefer plants that are easy to handle and grow well. I would not remove it from the wild, but I would not buy another one either. Its being sold in Zone 7B to 8A as "hardy" and I am in a zone 8A or 8B or in between and it dies without even going through a winter, probably I got a sick plant from LOWE'S.
I like to buy from big stores, because the nurseries will not hold on to their one year warranty at all. An example is that now I have a dead Washingtonia Robusta and a majour nursery in Lexington, SC will not respect their one year warranty (that ends in a few days) and will not replace the dead one with a good one. What can I say after I spent over $5000 with them? They have a majour problem keeping their promises out here. I suppose Coontie "palm" should be handled by professionals only.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2010 at 12:07AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

what is the most native if possible to buy? I would like to grow some but it seems that the ones to buy are from south America. Thanks

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 12:44AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
judyk_2008(9 DeLeon Sprs)

I have native coonties all over my property. I have never watered or fertilized them. I mow over them and they come right back. They are even in the median in DeLeon Springs and they get mowed down every year. The tops do freeze but come right back. They are about the most hardy plants I know of. The stores must be selling bad plants that aren't for Florida. They like to be dry and love our sandy soil. Also they don't care if it's sunny or shady. You can't ask for a better plant.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 9:31AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
KaraLynn(z9 FL, Inverness, Citrus)

One of the main reasons why it's hard to find coonties growing in the wild is because they have been badly commercially exploited meaning irresponsible people have gone out and dug them up from the wild in order to sell them. I imagine that this is why cycadjungle will not list where he's seen them growing. Another problem is that developers will come in and completely clear property of all native vegitation whether or not it is a plant that is threatened or endangered. I believe that the native coontie is on the threatened list. The only places I've seen coonties growing wild is in areas that are difficult to access or are kept behind locked gates.

One of the coontie clumps I have growing on my property came from a private home owners property that I had gone to to pick up a load of rocks from. While I was moving the rocks I noticed a large coontie growing out from under the pile. When I mentioned it to the property owner he told me that I could take it otherwise he would just throw it away. The plants are now growing quite happily in my back yard under the edge of a large oak.

In order to increase your chances of getting a true native coontie I would suggest going to a native plant nursery to buy coonties if there is such a nursery near you. Since I have yet to find a native plant nursery in my area I can tell you that I've bought coonties from walmart that are currently thriving in my garden.

    Bookmark   July 12, 2013 at 12:07PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I know exactly what killed mine after growing it for more than two years. It is about 50, yes 50 Atala butterfly caterpillars. I saw it just this morning, from a distance it looked like the plant was turning brown and dying when it was so lush and green last week. I did not inspect everyday however and to my pleasant surprise today I did....they are eating it to death. Oh well, after all that's why I planted it, for the butterflies which were almost extinct. I would imagine many of you inspected it and found no caterpillars? But in case you didn't perhaps they came and ate it up and left before you noticed? I will have to go out now and buy some more :)

    Bookmark   July 23, 2014 at 6:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
love_the_yard(z9A Jax FL)

Interesting - I didn't know about coonties and the atala butterfly. I found an article about them on the University of Florida website (linked below). It says:

...the atala larvae inflict only minimal and temporary damage to the coontie plant. The plants will quickly recover.

From the article, it doesn't sound like atala kill coonties under normal conditions. I hope yours recovers.

Carol in Jacksonville

Here is a link that might be useful: UF IFAS - Florida Coonties and Atala Butterflies

    Bookmark   July 23, 2014 at 9:00PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Not sure you would call it "in the wild", but some of the older houses/gardens in deland have huge amounts of it. Some of it has to be from the 20's, or so, as is the house is that old and the clumps are massive. Noticed the main problem at the big box stores is scale........

    Bookmark   July 24, 2014 at 3:38PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Avocado wilt
I think we have the red bay wilt on our avocado. No...
Tomato varieties good from now to early summer?
I am in zone 10A or B—can't quite make out where...
Looking for wax jambu and Barbados cherry cuttings
Looking to purchase some cuttings of the following...
Planting Spices
Hey folks, I was doing a bit of google searching, which...
looking for more info on this tree
I was given a pod off a "Giant Star Potato",...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™