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Coco Plum
Chrysobalanus icaco
Coco plum, photographed at West Creek Pineland Natural Area in Coconut Creek, Broward County, in April 2014.
coco plum

Coco plum, Chrysobalanus icaco, is one of the most adaptable native plants in South Florida. It can be found in coastal dunes, scrub, pine flatwoods, the edges of wetlands and on tree islands in the Everglades. And it can be found in the most manicured, landscaped yards and parks.

Coco plum — also spelled cocoplum and coco-plum — can be a tall, sprawling shrub — 10 or 15 feet high and just as wide — when growing inland, or a dense, ground-hugging cover near the beach.

Inland, it can also be a tree, 30 feet tall with a foot-thick trunk. The color of the fruit also can be affected by where it grows — lighter, almost creamy white near the coast; darker, almost black farther inland.

In any case, the fruit is very much edible, although there is some disagreement about its taste and whether lighter or darker varieties are better. We've tried it several times and found it rather meh. Coco plum can be eaten right off the plant or cooked; the seeds are large and the skin papery. They can be made into preserves and jellies or canned. In Cuba, it's made into a preserve that's served as a dessert.

Coco plum has been used in traditional medicine for centuries, and researchers have found it does have promise, including the ability to reduce blood sugar in animals with type II diabetes. The Seminoles made a liquor from the wood ash that they used to cleanse the body and strengthen marriages. They also ate the fruit and used the wood to make arrows.

coco plum

Florida is coco plum's only home among the 50 states, and it's only found as far north as Brevard County. It can be found in Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands, Mexico and Central America, South America to Brazil, and western Africa. It is cultivated and naturalized in parts of Asia and the Pacific.

The leaves are fairly round, dark green above, yellow-green below. New growth can show various reds. It flowers year round, but mainly in the winter and spring. The flowers are small and white, but appear in clusters, amplifying their effect.

It is widely tolerant of weather extremes, which is one of the reasons why it is attractive to landscapers. But grows best with partial shade and in an area with limited competition from other plants. It is an important plant for wildlife, providing both food and cover. Its flowers are an important source of food for honeybees. It is a member of Chrysobalanaceae, the coco plum family.

Photographs by David Sedore
Coco Plum
  United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) distribution maps for coco plum.


Coco Plum
Links for Coco Plum
Institute for Regional Conservation Natives for Your Neighborhood   USDA PLANTS Database Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants
  Flora of North America      
Florida of North America   Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants   Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Unless otherwise stated, all photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without their express permission.