Coonties belong to the group of plants known as cycads, which are famous for having a fossil history as old as that of the dinosaurs. Although coonties and other cycads are among the plants which were most likely a part of the Triceratops’ diet, coonties are also a favorite food source of the Atala butterfly, Eumaeus atala. The Atala butterfly is native to Southeastern Florida, and a few Caribbean islands. Unfortunately, over time, because the coontie was over-harvested, the Atala butterfly population dwindled to being on the verge of extinction. Consequently, ecologists strongly encouraged property owners and landscape managers in South Florida, to plant as many coonties as possible.
L-R: Atala butterfly adult, Atala butterfy larvae, Emerging Atala adult
A landscape full of coonties is however, not without its challenges, as the echo moth Seirarctia echoptera also likes to feed on coonties. And if a landscape full of fuzzy caterpillars was not bad enough, coonties can also be prone to looking scorched during mid-summer months when rainfall and humidity are at peak levels. This leaf necrosis is most often due to the fungus Mycoleptodiscus indicus.
L-R: Echo moth adult, Echo moth larvae, Coontie leaf necrosis
However, have no fear! Coonties literally have eons of experience surviving pests and diseases, not to mention intense forest fires. So chances are, those hardy plants in your landscape will “take a licking and keep on ticking”, which is more than can be said for our dinosaur friends!