Friday, March 25, 2016

Meet the "Honey Locust" - Gleditsia triacanthos

The Honey Locust - Gleditsia triacanthos is a large deciduous tree with an open spreading crown and branched spines growing from the trunk and branches.  It is most easily recognized by the combination of pinnate and bipinnate leaves, large visable thorns and elongated legume. Known to reach heights of 80-140 feet, they are considered a medium to large tree. Though in most areas it reaches an average of 65-100 feet.  The fruit is a flat black - brown hairy pod (legume) often a foot or more long and twisted in appearance. The leaves each have 7-16 pairs of leaflets and are a true green color during the growing season changing in the fall to a lovely yellow color.  Flowers are greenish-yellow, bell shaped and grow in small upright symetrical clusters.  The bark is red when young becoming brown and deeply furrowed with narrow ridges when mature.
Image Citation: John D. Byrd, Mississippi State University,

This tree grows naturally in many habitats throughout the Eastern United States from Pennsylvania in the North to Nebraska and Texas in the South. The cultivated forms often lack the prickly spines that many tree workers dread working around and are much preferred in residential and urban settings.  Recommended for hardiness zones 3-9, the Honey Locust is a shade tree capable of completely blocking sunlight to areas below.  Honey Locust's are fast growers gaining as much as 24 inches each year. They prefer full sunlight or at least 6 hours per day and are tolerant of wet and dry sites, salt, compacted soil, pollution and most other urban stresses.

Image Citation: (legumes) Franklin Bonner, USFS (ret.),
Image Citation: (thorns) William Fountain, University of Kentucky,

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Meet the "Elderberries" - Sambucus

The Elderberries - Sambucus are a small genus made up of only 10 species of which only 2 are commonly found in North America the American Elderberry- Sambucus nigra and the Red Elderberry- Sambucus racemosa, a third Danewort/Dwarf Elderberry- Sambucus ebulus is reported to be naturalized in the Northeast portions of the United States. They are deciduous shrubs, small trees or herbs with very soft wood and conspicuous pith.

Image Citation: (Common Elderberry) Charles T. Bryson, USDA Agricultural Research Service,

The leaves are opposite and compound usually pinnate but occasionally bi-pinnate. The leaflets are lanceolate or ovate with distinctly toothed margins. The flowers are small, white or cream in color and generally made up 3-5 petals and 5 stamens. When crushed the flowers produce a sweet yet rancid odor. The fruit is a fleshy round berry like drupe, red or black in color depending on the species, these berries generally occur in bunches.

Image Citation: (Elderberry Flowers)  Ohio State Weed Lab , The Ohio State University,

The Elderberries are mostly found in moist to wet areas, roadsides, ditches, wetland and woodland margins at elevations ranging from 3-3000 m. It is a dominant under story species in riparian woodlands where it persists despite the competition from other species, it does not however grow well in closed story forests. American Elderberries are found from the central portion of the US (Wisconsin to Texas) all the way to the East Coast and as far North as Nova Scotia. The Red Elderberries are found in a more limited area on either coast of the US, from Alaska in the North and Northern California in the South on the Pacific Coast, Sporadically from Northern Idaho to Arizona and New Mexico in the central portion of the country, and from Wisconsin to Nova Scotia in the North East and West Virginia, Northern Virginia, Maryland and Delaware in the Mid-Atlantic/South.

Image Citation: (Red Elderberry) Gil Wojciech, Polish Forest Research Institute,

American Elderberry is best distinguished by the black fruit, whereas the Red Elderberry has red fruit. Similar species include Box Elder and Ash, which have similar leaves however neither have fleshy fruits as the Elderberries do. The fleshy fruit is edible and has been used by various cultures including Native Americans, Spaniards, Cahuillas, French, Austrians, and Germans for many different purposes. The berries can be used to make wine, jams, jelly, syrup and pies. When dried they can be cooked down to form a sauce (sometimes called sauco by the Cahuillas) that does not require any type of sweetening. The flowers are sometimes added to batters, eaten raw, added to teas, or even fried for a sweet snack. The twigs can be used to tap Maple trees for Syrup collection, basket weaving, flute and clapper stick making, tinder and even homemade squirt guns (when hollowed out).

Image Citation: (Dwarf Elderberry) Jan Samanek, Phytosanitary Administration,

Many Elderberries are planted for their ornamental value offering visual interest with both the flowers and the berries, others are planted for the wildlife value as they attract birds, small mammals, rodents, deer and butterflies. They are very a productive, adaptable and easy to establish species. Elderberries also are a very useful ground cover for stabilizing stream banks and other sites that are prone to erosion. Elderberries grow best from seed and are most often sown in the Fall season, cutting from this species are not very successful. This species is recommended for hardiness zones 3-8 and can be found at many nurseries for planting in your own garden.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Meet the "Forsythia" - Forsythia

Spring is officially here and one of the first signs confirming that is the lovely persistent yellow blooms of the Forsythia. The yellow blooms seem to appear overnight and are often one of the very first pops of color in a landscape that has been otherwise lacking all winter. A common shrub in our area the Forsythia is a member of the Oleaceae (Olive) family which includes 24 genera and more then 600 species occurring in a wide variety of habitats world wide. Most species in the family have bisexual flowers of white or yellow. The most well known member of this family is the Olea europaea, the source of the edible olive and the oils that are extracted from it's fleshy pulp.

Image Citation: Denise Ellsworth, The Ohio State University,

Forsythia have opposite, simple leaves that are ovate to oblong-lancelolate in shape, they are usually only 3–5" in length. The medium to dark green foliage is coarsely toothed along the upper half of the margin. The flowers appear in early spring and are a bright yellow in color, they are made up of four petals that are joined at the base. It is believed by many that Forsythia flowers are able to produce lactose (milk sugar), though this has not been confirmed scientifically. The fruit is a dried capsule containing winged seeds. The name Forsythia is derived from the horticulturist William Forsythe, English/Scottish botanist who was royal head gardener and a founding member of the Royal Horticultural Society

Image Citation: Denise Ellsworth, The Ohio State University,

Forsythia can be planted as a specimen shrub but are most often planted in groups or rows to form hedges. Recommended for hardiness zones 5-8, they grow well in acidic, alkaline, loam, moist, rich, sand, silt loam and well drained soils. They are fast growing deciduous shrubs that can range in height from 3-10 feet tall. Forsythia prefer full sun or partial shade, a minimum of 4 hours of direct sunlight daily. It is recommended that they be pruned just after blooming to achieve the best results, though naturally they tend to grown in a rounded shape limiting the need for shaping. The graceful branches tend to form a upright sweeping form. They are also well suited for planting within cities or urban areas as they are tolerant to air pollution. Take care and plan ahead when planting Forsythia as these fast growers can gain as many as 24 inches each year and should be planted 4-6 feet apart. They are readily available at most nurseries and home improvement/garden centers.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Meet the "Sweetgum" - Liquidambar styraciflua

The Sweetgum - Liquidambar styraciflua, is a deciduous tree that reaches heights of up to 132 feet. It is most easily identified by it's palmately lobed, almost star shaped leaves and spiked fruiting balls (which are even called some not so nice names when an unknowing party steps on one). Generally Sweetgums grow in a upright fashion, with a single erect trunk with little branching on the lower 1/2, this is especially true when grown in woodland or forest areas. The Sweetgum is a member of the Altingiaceae family, this family has members in North and Central America, Southeast Asia and Turkey - it includes 2 genera and 13 species, only 1 that is native to the United States. The Sweetgum is also called to as Gum, Gum Ball, Monkey Ball, or Sweet Gum. 

Image Citation: Deena Sharon Chadi, Bank Street College of Education,

The Sweetgum has grayish or green-gray bark that is finely or moderately fissured. The leaves are alternate and simple, palmate with 5-7 lobes, almost shaped like a star with a more flattened base. The upper portions of the leaves are usually lustrous and green, while the lower surface is more dull and paler in color. The flowers are absent of sepals and petals, the males are greenish-yellow in oblong clusters at the branch tips. Female flowers are paler green, occurring in ball-like dangling clusters. The fruit is made up of numerous capsules that are consolidated into a spiny ball. The balls are generally about 3 cm in diameter with stiff spines forming on the tips. These fruits are generally the biggest complaint when it comes to this species as they can be a hazard on the ground if stepped on or tripped over.

Image Citation: Chris Evans, University of Illinois,

The Sweetgum is generally found in rich woods, slopes, fields, residential and urban landscapes, low woods, swamp margins and floodplains. It is native to the United States and can be found as far West as Texas in the South to Southern Illinois in the North continuing to the East Coast New Jersey and Maryland in the North and Central Florida in the South.

Image Citation: Chris Evans, University of Illinois,

The American Sycamore also has ball like fruit, however they are not Spiked like the Sweetgum. The Japanese Maples leaves may be confused with the Sweetgum but the fruits are completely different (the Sweetgum having a spiky ball and the Maple having paired samara). The Sweetgum is an important tree to the Eastern landscape. It is recommended for hardiness zones 5-9.

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Meet the "Cryptomeria" - Cryptomeria japonica

The "Cryptomeria" - Cryptomeria japonica is a monoecious ornamental evergreen tree that can reach heights upwards of 65-70 feet.  Growing in a slender, upright pyramidal fashion, it has unique short, sharp in-curved needles that are unique to this species and only the rare Taiwania (a similar species).  The needlike leaves are 3-12 mm long and  spirally arranged. The bark is reddish brown to dark gray, fibrous and often peels off in strips. The cones are brown, slightly rounded with an apical point and are borne at the tips of the twigs in groups of 1-6.  The branching habit of this species is considered to be irregular and does not occur in a uniform fashion.

Image Citation (Mature Cryptomeria): Richard Webb,

The Cryptomeria is native to only China and Japan, but has been successfully grown as an ornamental in the United States. In it's native range specimens are known to live more then 1700 years and reach diameters of almost 10 feet.  It is the national tree of Japan where it is often planted at temples and shrines.  In the US, the best specimens are found in regions with warm and moist summers.  The Cryptomeria is sometimes also called Sugi or Japanese Cedar.  This species prefers moist, rich, fertile, acidic, but well-drained soils in full sun and can only tolerate some light shade.  This tree is recommended for US hardiness zones 5-9 and is considered to be a low maintenance large specimen or screen tree.  

Image Citation (Young Cryptomeria): Bonsak Hammeraas - The Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research,

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Monday, March 14, 2016

Meet the "Pin Oak" - Quercus palustris

The Pin Oak or Quercus palustris is a large deciduous tree that has been recorded as present in the United States since at least 1770.   It is most commonly planted along highways, parking lots, open spaces as well as in ornamental in landscapes as a specimen tree.  The Pin Oak generally has a single erect trunk,  and thin pin like twigs.  It's lower branches if left natural can often sweep the ground,  the middle branches grow in a more horizontal fashion, while the uppers are horizontal then ascending in the upper crown.  The Pin Oak when mature has an almost symmetrical, conical or cylindrical appearance.

Image Citation: David Stephens,

A rapid grower, Pin Oak is one of the fastest growing Oaks.  This species can grow on average 12-15 feet in a window of just 5-7 years.  In the Spring the foliage is a dark green color, shifting to russet-bronze and red in the Autumn.  The leaves  are alternate, have 5-7 deep narrow primary lobes, each containing a few bristle like teeth/tips.  They are a lustrous dark yellowy green on the surface, changing to a bright scarlet red in the Fall.  The bark is Grayish brown with small ridges, that over time become more furrowed.  The twigs are slender and a lustrous reddish brown color.  The terminal buds are also a reddish brown color ranging from 2-5 mm long, egg shaped, and pointed on the tip.  The fruit is an acorn, with a shallow cup that is 3-6 mm deep which encloses only about 1/4 of the nut.

Image Citation: Richard Webb,

It grows well in zones 4-9 and is one of the most commonly used native Oaks for landscape purposes. This tree tolerates wet soils and prefers moist rich soil, but does have a sensitivity to high PH. The flowers are similar to those on a Red Oak, acorns that are nearly round and brown when ripe.  The Pin Oak is readily available at most nurseries and would make a beautiful sturdy addition to any landscape.  It is found native in lowland woods, river bottomlands, swamp margins, poorly drained uplands, normally found naturally between 500-1000 meters, also widely planted as a street and yard tree above 1000 meters.  Generally found from Massachusetts and New York in the North, Virginia, small portions of North Carolina and Tennessee in the South on West through Kansas and Oklahoma.  

Image Citation: Chris Evans, University of Illinois,

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Friday, March 11, 2016

Meet the "Coastal Sweetpepperbush" -Clethraceae alnifolia & "Mountain Sweetpepperbush" - Clethraeceae acuminata

The Coastal Sweetpepperbush & Mountain Sweetpepperbush - Clethra alnifolia & Clethra acuminata are members of the very small Clethraceae (or Witch Alder) Family.  This family is made up of only about 75 species of which only 2  occur naturally in North America .  The Coastal Sweetpepperbush and the Mountain Sweetpepperbush are the only two members of the Clethraceae family, that are native to North America (though some research shows the possibility of a third that is found mostly in Cuba under a different name - Purdiaea).  Both are deciduous shrubs or small trees rarely reaching over 20 feet tall.  The trunk can occur as either a single or multi-leader with an erect upright habit.   The two are very similar in appearance with the main difference between the two being the distribution and habitat where they are found. The genus name originates from the Greek word Klethra which refers to the Alder in which the Sweetpepperbush resembles.

Image Citation: Karan A. Rawlins, University of Georgia,

Sweetpepperbush in general are most recognized by the combination of their coarsely toothed acuminate leaves, elongated raceme of white flowers and shredding/peeling bark.  The leaves are alternate, elliptic or lanceolate in shape and crowded towards the tips of the branches/twigs.  The leaves are dark green in color, hairless and are between 8-20 cm long and 5-9 cm wide.  The fruit is an ovoid three part capsule that is about 5 mm in diameter.  Each capsule matures in the Fall causing the fruit to split, releasing it's many seeds.  The flowers are bisexual, white in color and 6-8 mm in diameter each, occurring on narrowly elongated racemes 8-20 cm long.  The showy and fragrant flowers appear between July-August depending on the location.

Coastal Sweetpepperbush has a broader range and is found from Nova Scotia in the North to Southern Florida and Eastern Texas in the South. Coastal Sweetpepperbush is found in primarily pine-palmetto flat woods, swamp margins, dry woodlands, Atlantic White Cedar wetlands, generally below 200 meters.  

Image Citation: Karan A. Rawlins, University of Georgia,

Mountain Sweetpepperbush has a very limited natural range that runs only through the mountain ranges of Southwestern Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Southwestern Virginia, Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Tennessee, Northeastern South Carolina and the extreme North Eastern portion of Georgia. It is most often found in moist mountain forests between 500-1400 m.

Sweetpepperbush is an excellent problem free shrub that can tolerate many soil conditions and does not have any serious disease or insect issues.  It is recommended for hardiness zones 3-9 and is a known attractant for many types of butterflies.  It can be planted as a hedge, stand alone shrub, in rain gardens or for erosion control.  It is often marketed under the name Summersweet and can be propagated by cuttings.

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Meet the Shingle Oak - Quercus imbricaria

The Shingle Oak -Quercus imbricaria  is a medium sized deciduous tree that can reach heights of 60-85 foot tall.  It is most easily distinguished by it's oblong, dark green leaves with a hairy underside and comparatively long petiole.  It grows in an upright form with a single erect trunk and rounded crown, they are generally broader then they are tall.  The lowest branches often droop down nearing the ground, similar to the growth habit of the Pin Oak.  It is native to the dry/moist slopes, river banks, and stream areas of the Mid-Atlantic to Mid Western states of the US, from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin in the North to North Eastern Texas and Western North Carolina in the South.  

Image Citation: Paul Wray, Iowa State University,

The bark of the Shingle Oak is a gray-brown in color it is shallow and narrowly furrowed.  The leaves are alternate, leathery, stiff, and simply shaped elliptical or oblong with a sharp or bluntly pointed tip. The upper surface of the leaves are more lustrous then the lower surfaces which generally have a coating of fine hair.  The blades of the leaves are generally around 8-20 cm long and 2-7 cm broad.  The fruit occurs as an acorn. The Shingle Oak acorns are shallow and cupped, 5-9 mm deep with 1/3 to 1/2 of the dark brown nut enclosed under cap.  

Image Citation: Paul Wray, Iowa State University,

The Shingle Oak is recommended for hardiness zones 4-8.  It is a member of the Red Oak family, it's leaves are most similar to those of the Willow Oak.  Early settlers used the lumber of the tree to make Shingles for their homes and other structures, this is believed to be how the tree got it's interesting name.  Shingle Oak is considered to be one of the best and most reliable oaks, but it is not commonly used despite it's positive traits.  It makes a good park, street or single specimen tree. It also adapts well to pruning and has persistent leaves which makes it useful as a hedgerow tree.  The fall coloring of the Shingle Oak is not one of the most notable, however the trees nice form and interesting leaf shapes give the tree interest year round.

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Monday, March 7, 2016

Meet the Butternut - Juglans cinerea

The Butternut - Juglans cinerea, is a medium to large sized deciduous tree that can reach heights upwards of 75 feet in ideal growth conditions.  It is sometimes also referred to as the White Walnut and is best recognized because of it's combination of long pinnate leaves with multiple leaflets and sticky 4-angled fruit husk.  It is native to the woodlands, floodplains, river terraces, and rocky slopes of the Eastern United States.  Found from New Brunswick, West through Minnesota in the North continuing South to South Carolina, Georgia, Northern Alabama, Northern Mississippi and Arkansas.  It is sometimes confused with the Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) but the fruit husks are greatly different as one has ridges and the other lacks ridges and angles all together.  This species is considered to be at risk as the Butternut Canker a fungal disease caused by Sirococcus clavigignenti-juglans-dacearun, has wiped out large populations throughout the native growth range.  

Image Citation: Bill Cook, Michigan State University,

The bark of the Butternut is a light grey or brown, thick and deeply furrowed. The Leaves are alternate and pinnately compound with 11-17 leaflets one of which is a terminal leaflet. Each leaflet is 5-11 cm long and about 6 cm wide, narrow and ovate in shape with a tapering point at the end. The upper portions of each leaflet is a yellow green color while the lower is a paler in color, hairy and often sticky to the touch. In the fall the color of the leaves changes to a bright yellow or yellow-brown. The edible fruit is a brown ellipsoid or ovid drupe (nut) that is 5-8 cm long with a thick husk, it is sticky to the touch and mostly 4 sided. The kernel of the fruit is oily and matures in late Summer or Early Fall. The male flower of the Butternut are cylindrical, hairy and a green-yellow and occur as catkins that are 6-14 cm long, the female flowers occur as spikes of 4-7 flowers at the branch tips. The sweet sap of the Butternut is also edible and can be tapped during the Spring season. Butternut sap can be used as a refreshing drink, or boiled down to a syrup or sugar. The wood of the Butternut is coarse grained, soft, and very attractive, it weighs about 25 lb per cubic foot and is not as valuable a crop as the Black Walnut (J. nigra), but can also be used indoors for furniture, doors or trim.

Image Citation (Male Flowers): Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service,
Image Citation (Female Flowers):Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service,

The Butternut is recommend for hardiness zones and would make a lovely shade tree and nut producer in your landscape. Butternuts are the easiest of the native tree nuts to harvest and process though they are messy so be prepared for that when and if you decide to plant one in your yard. They are truly remarkable, in the sense that the nuts can remain fresh and edible for more than 25 years if the un cracked nuts are kept dry. Take care when trying to harvest the fruits/nuts as Butternut and Walnut husks emit a dye that will turn your skin and clothes brown. All trees in the Juglans family (this includes Butternut and Walnuts) generate a chemical from their root systems that will seep into the surrounding soil, the toxin, called juglone, prevents the growth of some species of plants. The most notable plants that can not tolerate juglone in their surrounding soils are rhododendrons, azaleas and crops such as potatoes and tomatoes.

Image Citation (Single Nut): Bill Cook, Michigan State University,

Butternut products have been used for generations for medicinal purposes.  The Native Americans used the Butternut as a laxative and/or tonic to remedy arthritic or rheumatic conditions, headaches, dysentery, constipation and treat wounds.  Modern medicine still recognizes Butternut as a remedy for chronic constipation as it helps gently produce bowel movements.  The inner bark is one of the few laxatives that are considered safe for use during pregnancy.  Butternut products have also been found to lower cholesterol and promote healthy liver function by improving the clearance of waste from the organ.  

Image Citation (Butternut): Paul Wray, Iowa State University,

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Thursday, March 3, 2016

Meet the Tamariceae / Tamarisk Family

The Tamariceae / Tamarisk Family is a small family made up of just 5 genera and 80 species of shrubs, small woody plants and trees.  They are native primarily in Africa and Euroasia  in salty dry areas, steppes, deserts, sandy shores, and river banks.  There is only a single genus found naturalised in North America, the Tamarix.  The Tamarix is a very unique genera that is considered to be one of the most taxinomically challenging genera among angiosperms.  Tamarix can not be identified without their flowers and/or fruit, the identifying characters vary from plant to plant, season to season.  Some Tamarix plants may even appear to have different characteristics from year to year making identification that much more of a challenge.  

(Single Tamarisk) Image Citation: Steve Dewey, Utah State University,

Deciduous shrubs or small trees the Tamarix/Tamarisk (or Salt Cedars as they are often called) are a genus of about 55 species, 9 of which are found in North America.  The Tamarix have a distinctive Red Cedar appearance, deep root system and a long taproot.  They generally grow in an upright, erect form with a single or multiple low branching trunks.  The crown of each plant usually has numerous ascending or spreading branches which may appear wispy.  The bark is a brownish color when mature but red when young.  The leaves are alternate and scalelike 1-7 mm long and are covered with salt excreting glands.  The flowers are mostly bisexual but sometimes occasionally appear as unisexual, they are pinkish or pink to white in color.  The sepals and petals usually occur in groups of 4 or 5, with 1 pistil and 3 or 4 carpels.  Some flowers contain inflorescence a raceme or panicle.  The Fruit are a cone like capsule, each one contains many seeds.  The seeds are dispursed by both wind and water.  In warm climates plants can produce flowers within as little as four months of germination.  

(Tamarisk In Bloom) Image Citation: Steve Dewey, Utah State University,

In the early 1800's Tamarisks were imported by the thousands to be used for erosion control.  All of these varieties were either aggressive or invasive in nature, especially in the Western portions of North America.  It is estimated that this species has overtaken more then a half a million hectares of riparian habitat to date and gaining more then 16000 more annually.  The salt encrusted falling foliage greatly alters soil chemistry and can prevent native species from growing in areas where stands are dense, this poses a great threat to native species.

(Tamarisk Infestation) Image Citation:  Steve Dewey, Utah State University,

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Meet the Tetrazygia - Tetrazygia bicolor

The Tetrazygia (Tetrazygia bicolor) also known as the Florida Clover Ash, is a evergreen small tree or shrub the generally only reaches 30 feet in height.  It is easily identified by the very distinct longitudinal leaf veins that are depressed above and prominent below.  It usually appears in shrubby form with a single erect trunk.  

Image Citation: Dan Clark, USDI National Park Service,

The leaves are opposite, simple, lanceolate and somewhat curved.  The upper surfaces of the leaves are are lustrous, dark green and have two obviously depressed longitudinal veins near the margins joined with numerous depressed lateral veins, these veins give the surface an almost quilted appearance.  The blades are 7-12 cm long and 2-4 cm wide.  The flowers are bisexual, with 5 petals generally white in color with 10 stamens and 1 pistil.  The flowers are so delicate that they fall off when touched.  The fruit is a rounded black berry that matures in late Summer to early Fall.

Image Citation: Dan Clark, USDI National Park Service,

The Tetrazygia is native to only the Everglades, Pinelands and Hammocks of Southern Florida.  A member of the very large Melastomataceae family which contains over 200 genera and 4500 species distributed mostly in the tropics.  The Tetrazygia is the only woody member family of the Melastomataceae Family native to North America.  

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