A question frequently heard from visitors to the park is, “what is that tree?” More often than not, it’s a seagrape, with its distinctive big round leaves that can be large enough to use as a plate. A large shade tree, the very noticeable fruit clusters are usually found in summer. Being dioecious, the male and female flowers are on separate plants. The small grapes (thus the name) start as semi-showy small white flower clusters along a 6 to 10-inch stem, also known as racemes.
As the fruits mature, their color changes from green to red to purple. Floridians will reminisce of childhood days, eating the small fruits off the trees. Early pioneers to South Florida would make a grape jelly from the fruit, but it takes quite a large amount to make a jarful. The size of the fruit can be deceiving, as it is more seed than flesh.
In the tropical forest of Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, where they are protected from the wind, seagrape trees can grow as high as 50 feet. Racoons, birds and other wildlife love the fruits and find shelter in its branches. Along coastal shorelines, seagrapes stabilize the sand and prevent erosion. In that environment they rarely grow more than 10 feet high, but still provide cover for birds and sea turtles.
Look for the distinctive seagrape tree in this park and find the wildlife that uses it for food and shelter.