Anna Maria Island has many enchanting plants growing on it. Some are native, others are exotic. In recent years, there has been a lot of attention to trying to eliminate certain exotic plants, especially the ones considered invasive, from the Florida landscape. Although there is something to be said for this, it often seems ridiculous, when it’s in the context of locations where most landscaping consists of lawns, citrus trees, flower gardens, and plenty of pavement.
One plant that is not caught up in any controversy is the native sea grape (Coccoloba uvifera). The whimsical sea grape can be seen around Anna Maria Island in a wide range of sizes, from small shrubs, to hedges, to large trees. The most noticeable characteristic of this plant is the round leaves, which can approach ten inches across in diameter. The veins are often reddish. The shiny green leaves also turn red, and sometimes yellow, as they age.
On Anna Maria Island, this ageing often occurs at the end of winter, especially if cold temperatures stress the plant. The result is perhaps the closest thing to “autumn leaves” that occurs in the native vegetation of the island. Not only do some of the sea grape leaves turn brilliant colors as winter progresses, they eventually fall, covering the ground beneath them in the same way that autumn leaves blanket the ground up North. How nice it is to have the autumn leaves experience here on the island, even if it’s at the end of winter instead of at the beginning.
An amusing ramification of the shape of sea grape leaves is the way they can be caught by the wind and roll great distances along the ground. It’s not unusual to spot a “runaway” sea grape leaf rolling across the road or along the beach. They move so far this way that at first they give the impression of being something that’s alive and running. It’s always a surprise to realize it’s only a fast-moving round leaf.
Even as early as the 1600s, the names for this plant have included the word “grape.” The round clustered fruit is edible, right off the plant, and it also is used to make jelly. Another way to bring the sea grape to the table is simply to use the round leaves as a decorative little mat under a small plate. It’s a great way to add local Anna Maria Island flair to your setting.