Coastal Growing Tips: Seagrapes

Details of where seagrape is grown and why it grows only in coastal areas. Information on gathering grapes.

The seagrape is a member of the polygonaceae family. It is a type of evergreen tree that grows along coastal areas where the average temperature does not fall below 32ºF. Locations where the seagrape grows include southern Florida USA, the West Indies, the Bahamas, northern South America, and portions of Central America. The seagrape tree is part of a natural ecological scheme that is found in these geographical regions because it has a high tolerance to wind and salt and grows well behind sand dunes. In the areas where seagrapes thrive, the following growths may also be present: mangrove, oak and palmetto trees, and salt marshes. A good example of an area where this ecological system can be found is in Canaveral National Seashore in Florida.

Seagrape trees grown in favorable conditions can vary in height from small bushes to trees that are over 30 feet tall. Additionally, the trees will produce flowers in the late spring or early summer, which are small and white in color. You can recognize a seagrape tree by its smooth, light brown bark. This bark will have some irregularities on it, however, that resemble light blotches. Additionally, the seagrape tree will have leaves that are rounded, thick, and which are approximately 6 inches in width. The color of these leaves will vary depending on the age of the tree. Young seagrape trees will have leaves whose colors are light green or bronze. Mature seagrape trees will have leaves whose colors are dark green.

Female seagrape trees also bear a fruit that resembles grapes; hence the name for the tree. Additionally, this fruit can be picked directly from the tree. Seagrape fruit is oval shaped and is approximately one inch in length. Its skin varies in color from white to dark purple. The fruit contains flesh that surrounds one large pit. You can eat the pulp of a seagrape in its raw state; it has a taste that is sharp yet sweet. Additionally, many people use the fruit to make jelly, jam, and wine. It is considered a wild fruit and prized among culinary connoisseurs.

Seagrape fruit typically matures in the summer. As it ripens, the fruits often fall naturally from the tree onto the ground where they may be harvested. Because the seagrape is a hearty tree, few insects or diseases disturb its growth. As a result, when the seagrape bears its fruit, local animals and birds often consume the ripened fruits that fall to the earth. This provides a natural feeding ground for many of the area's coastal wildlife.

Because the male seagrape tree does not bear fruit, it is popularly used as a decorative, landscaping plant. This is because it is fairly drought tolerant. Additionally, the seagrape can vary in size depending on how it is cultivated. Therefore, it can be planted for use as a tree, hedge, or as an ornamental bush.

Seagrapes are interesting trees because they provide a food source and can be used for decorative purposes as well. Moreover, they play an important part in stabilizing the world's ecology because they help to balance the ecosystems found in the coastal areas where they grow.

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