Meet A Native

mother's day campfire and picnic, 2014

by: Roger L. Hammer

Lignum Vitae

One of the most beautiful flowering trees in the flora of southern Florida is Lignum Vitae (Guajacum sanctum). The genus name Guajacum was derived from an aboriginal name for the tree, and the species name sanctum means “sacred.” The wood of this tree is extremely dense and rich in resin, making the tree highly sought by woodworkers and for use as bushings on drive shafts. The spinning drive shaft heats the wood and releases the oils, creating a natural lubricant.

The common name of this state-listed endangered species is Latin for “wood of life.” The tree was also called “Sailor’s Cure” in Spanish because the resin in the wood was once believed to be a cure for syphilis.

The leaves of Lignum Vitae are fed upon by the larvae of the lyside sulphur butterfly and the bright red seeds are eaten by mockingbirds, catbirds, and blue-headed vireos. Beautiful blue flowers appear several times a year attract a number of butterfly species, principally skippers.

If you are looking for a classy tree for your home landscape, this is the tree for you. Although it is a bit more expensive compared to other more commonly cultivated trees, it is worth every single penny, and the birds and butterflies it attracts are free.


Crenulate Leadplant

Crenulate Leadplant

Roger L. Hammer


The Crenulate Leadplant (Amorpha herbacea var. crenulata) is a member of the Pea Family (Fabaceae). It is a federal-listed endangered species because its entire global range is restricted to a relatively small portion of Miami-Dade County. Historically it occurred from the Little River to the town of Cutler, but much of its historic habitat has been lost to development.

     The Crenulate Leadplant is an attractive shrub to about 4′ tall, producing small gray-green leaves with crenulate (scalloped) margins, and long spikes of small, but showy, white flowers. The flowers attract butterflies, bees, wasps, and other insects.

      Eminent botanist John Kunkel Small (1869-1938) first discovered it in 1904 “in hammocks between Coconut Grove and Cutler.” Although it was described as a distinct species (Amorpha crenulata), it was later determined to be a variety of the more common and widespread Amorpha herbacea.

     Its preferred habitat is along the narrow interface between wet marl prairies and either pine rockland or rockland hammocks. Lowering of the water table through drainage, and wholesale clearing of prairies and pine rocklands for development and agriculture, has all but eliminated this habitat in Miami-Dade County outside of Everglades National Park. Today, the largest Crenulate Leadplant populations can be found within A. D. “Doug” Barnes Park at SW 34 Street and SW 72 Avenue in the Bird Drive Basin, and at the Deering Estate at Cutler at SW 167 Street and SW 72 Avenue adjacent to Biscayne Bay.

     Because it is easy to cultivate, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, in cooperation with Miami-Dade Parks & Recreation Department biologists, reintroduced 108 plants into the pine rockland at the Deering Estate at Cutler, where it was historically present. Following a recent wildfire and prescribed burn through part of the reintroduction area, the plants that were burned have rebounded vigorously, exemplifying how fire is beneficial to native pine rockland plants.

     Miami-Dade Parks & Recreation Department continues to be a responsible steward of rare and endangered plants and animals that reside in our public parks and preserves, and you can help too. Contact Miami-Dade Parks & Recreation Department’s Natural Areas Management at (305) 257-0933 Ext. 228 and enquire about their volunteer workdays.