Blog Description

Mound House Happenings shares the latest in ongoing projects, site improvements, scheduled programs and events, plus interesting facts and photos on our unique archaeology, history and ecology.

Mound House

Mound House
October 15, 2013

Friday, May 18, 2012

"Plants in Profile" #1 - #11

Many guests and volunteers have been asking for more information on the plants we have onsite here at Mound House. Luckily, Parke Lewis has been cataloging our plants for the last few months. Similar to the "Creature Features", he writes a brief summay each week that features one plant on site. To stay up to date, please look under the "Plants in Profile" tab to the left! You can find what he has written to date below:

#11 - CASSIA TREE (Cassia fistula)

As is often the case on the old homesteads here in Florida, the Mound House was built long before a pharmacy could be found on the island , and so some of the  beautiful landscaping trees found at our Mound House serve not only as decoration ,but at one time served as an important source of medicine. Such is the case with the cassia tree. Our cassia is found just as you arrive on the property and overlooks the parking lot. The dazzling yellow flowers appear as the branches are bare and just before new leaves emerge. The distinctive seed pods are over 2 feet long.
A native to India and the Amazon, the cassia has been used in traditional medicine to treat a vast array of ailments from, tumors to tuberculosis , malaria  and ulcers, syphilis, convulsions, leprosy and rheumatism.

Modern laboratory studies and clinical research do indeed find that cassia is an effective antioxidant, antibacterial, laxative, liver protective, anti-tumorous ,liver protective pain reliever, and fever reducer.

Cassia Tree

#10 - LANTANA (Lantana camara)
This  beautiful and useful plant can be found right outside our office door. The orange and yellow flowers serve as an exquisite landscaping and are a favorite of our butterflies here at Mound House. The flowers of the lantana vary from white to red to orange and provide an easily maintained landscaping on the shell mound.  But lantana  can also serve an even more important purpose, as mosquito repellant. In an experiment conducted by the Malaria Research Center in India, an application of  lantana flower extract to the skin provided  95% protection against mosquito bites for up to 4 hours, and with no adverse effects to humans.      


#9 - MARLBERRY (Ardisia escallonioides)

March is the season for Marlberry, and these shrubs can be found throughout the Mound House site heavy with dark berries that bend its limbs toward the ground. They can be found growing in the shade of our cabbage palms, and buttonwoods amongst our other coastal strand vegetation. Native to southwest Florida and the Keys, the Marlberry has an edible dark fruit that is rather tart and acidic, but palatable. It is also a favorite of birds and wildlife. Native Americans in south Florida called marlberry, the “ tobacco seasoning tree” because they mixed its leaves with their tobacco to make it go further.   


#8 - Pineapple (Ananas comosus )

Discovered on the island of Guadeloupe by Christopher Columbus during his second voyage to the New World in 1493, the pineapple first found its way to our shores in the 17th century ,when it was brought over from the Caribbean by European colonists. Given its exotic heritage and difficulty of procurement, the pineapple was considered a rare and significant gift when provided to guests. Accounts of New England sea captains returning from voyages to the Pacific or Caribbean placing a pineapple outside their homes as a symbol of a safe return testify to this fruits special place in our culture. Furthermore, the pineapple has a long history of being offered as the crowning piece in large displays of food and was used frequently in the 18th and 19th centuries to decorate bed posts, tablecloths, napkins and anything made to extend hospitality and welcome.
The pineapples growing at Mound House are the historic “ Florida pineapple”,  a smaller variety which was commercially grown in great quantities in Florida until the 1930’s when commercial production shifted to Cuba and Hawaii.      


#7 - CANNA LILY (Cannaceae sp.)

The canna is actually not a true lily and is actually in the same plant family as gingers and bannanas. The canna lilies have a large attractive foliage and beautiful flowers that are a favorite of gardeners throughout the tropics. Cana is a native of the Americas and is now found  distributed throughout the worlds warmer climates. More importantly, canna is one of the world’s most important agricultural plants and serves as an excellent starch source. In Asia, the canna is used to produce cellophane noodles. The seeds are used in beads and jewelery, and also can be turned into a source of purple dye.The smoke from  the burning leaves  serves as an effective insect repellant.

More recently, the canna is planted in wetlands and shallow retention areas or ditches to serve as a natural filtration system to capture heavy metals, toxic organic compounds and even radioactive elements.

Canna Lily

#6 - SEVEN YEAR APPLE (Casasia clustifolia)

This is one of botany’s more misleading plant names. The seven year apple does not take seven years for its fruit to mature and it is not even an apple. The fruit is hard like a small pear and  takes an entire year to mature. This small, tough tree grows along the coastline and is well adapted to salty conditions and can grow just inland from the mangrove fringe, just as it does here at Mound House. The fruit of the seven year apple was eaten by indigenous peoples as well as early settlers here in Florida. But ,the fruit is very seedy. Also a favorite food of the mockingbird ,our state bird. These dramatic song birds will descend on the ripe fruit and hollow it out ,leaving only the dead skin hanging in the tree. The delicate cluster of white flowers have a wonderful fragrance , making this tree an attractive landscape choice.        

Seven year apple

#5 - FLORIDA PRIVET (Forestiera segregata)

The privets are members of the olive family and this variety  is often referred  to as the wild olive or ink bush. This is a common plant found in coastal hammocks and is resistant to salt spray and alkaline soils ,both of which are prevalent here at Mound House. As an interesting aside, the soils on the Mound House property are alkaline due to the shells on the property which, or course, make up the mound. Our wild olives are found just inland from the mangrove fringe around the perimeter of the site. Wild olive are often used as native landscaping on coastal areas because of its ease of care ,attractiveness and appeal to wildlife.

The fruit of the wild olive is a small blue to purple berry about the size of a pea that is a favorite of  birds, and can be used to garnish “ Tini Martinis”, an island favorite.         

Florida Privet

#4 - BEAUTYBERRY (Callicarpa sp.)
The two most common species of beautyberry in Florida are the American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) which has a distinct reddish berry that grows in clusters at the leaf base on the stem,  and the purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) which ,of course, has a purple berry and is a more compact shrub. Beautyberry is found in old growth forests and pine flatwoods  within the interior of Florida as well as on coastal strand hammocks and shell mounds. The beautyberry was harvested and eaten  by the Calusa and other native American tribes in Florida as well as by pioneer settlers.

It is a favorite of wildlife including songbirds, raccoons and deer and serves as a favorite out at the Mound House of our birds and particularly during the winter when numerous species make their way south to spend the cold months in coastal Florida.

Look for the bright red and purple berries in late fall and winter, growing amongst the native coastal strand vegetation on site.   


#3 - Horseradish Tree (Moringa oleifera)

Native to West Asia, the horseradish tree or “moringa”  as it is also known is now well established throughout the tropical Americas. Packed with vitamins, its leaves offer more calcium than milk and more vitamin C than oranges! The tree gets its name because the roots are used as a tasty substitute for horseradish ,the leaves, seeds and seedpods are served in numerous dishes and are a staple of Indian and South American cuisine. The moringa is commonly kept in those parts of the world as a hedged “door yard” plant and a living fence. The tree is drought resistant , hardy and is also planted to prevent erosion and to provide a food source and cash crop in areas of poor soil. Most interestingly, the horseradish tree has a natural chemical composition that gives it a slight positive electric charge. Silt ,bacteria and other pollutants suspended in water have a slightly negative charge. As such, a single seed can purify a gallon of water, and stripped limbs are placed in polluted wells to help purify drinking water.        

Horseradish Tree

#2 - ANNATTO (Bixa orellana)

Also known as the “lipstick tree” ,this native of the Amazon produces the vibrant orangish  red coloring found in many traditional dishes as well as in the distinctive body paint and vibrant red and orange hair dyes of many Central and South American Indians. It is used to color fabric and as a healthy natural source of food coloring. Its uses as a natural coloring in cosmetics has  given rise to its current nickname . For traditional medicinal purposes, the annatto is used to treat dysentery, as an antiseptic and to reduce fever.  The seed pods are green and covered in spiky but soft flexible spines that are harmless. When opened, the pod reveals rows of tiny red seeds with a brightly pigmented coating.


#1 - KAPOK TREE (Ceiba pentandra)

Also known as the silk cotton tree, the kapok is native to South America. The Mayans believed that this tree was the “tree of life” and that its roots extended into the underworld and that its branches held up the heavens. The kapok can reach heights of up to 150’ and live for hundreds of years. Young trees, such as the ones at Mound House, develop sharp conical spines around the trunk and these serve to protect the tree against animals. As the trees age, these conical spines wear away and drop off.
However, it is the seed pods for which these trees are most famously known. The six inch round seed pod is filled brown seeds and a fine white, cotton like fiber which is eight times lighter than cotton and five times more buoyant than cork.
In the days before synthetic materials were developed, life vests were stuffed with this durable floatation source and life jackets were known as “kapoks”. Today,in some parts of the world, these fine fibers are still harvested to stuff mattresses and pillows .In colonial times, slaves brought to the Caribbean often slept on mattresses or pillows stuffed with kapok. Oddly enough, European planters did not, for they believed sleeping on kapok caused nightmares.