Although I love the thought of eating food fresh from the garden, the fact is, some foods taste no better when you grow them yourself. For example, I’ve never thought a home-grown carrot tasted any better than store-bought. It makes it hard for me to want to spend the time involved in gardening, especially during Florida’s warmer months. However, there are some foods that grow here with almost no attention, and they taste far better than store bought. We acquired two such delicacies with our Anna Maria Island property when we bought it ten years ago.
When we met at the lawyer’s office to close on the purchase of our new home, I asked the previous owner if it were necessary to water anything in the yard. Completely new to Florida, I had absolutely no experience or knowledge of landscaping and gardening on Anna Maria Island. “If you want bananas, you’d better water those,” he said. That was all.
Since then, we have done very little watering, including of the bananas that grow along the property line. Every once in awhile, when it’s been extremely dry, we give them a little water. Every year or so, we give them a little fertilizer. When we cut off the old, tattered fronds, we leave them under the banana trees and they act as mulch, holding in whatever moisture may be in the soil.
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.