If there’s a picture of a Florida or Caribbean beach, there’s probably a sea grape tree lurking in
the background. This is the native habitat of sea grape, which is also found in Mississippi and Hawaii.
Plants: Trees are up to 10-40' (3-12 m) in height and
up to 35' (10 m) wide, often
branching broadly. Bark is smooth, peeling, and grayish, with irregular patches
of white, gray and light brown.
Leaves: Leathery, broad, almost hairless leaves have prominent red
veins. They are alternate and round to kidney-shaped, and up to 8" (20 cm) around.
At the base of each leaf stem (petiole) is a red, collar-like sheath, an identifying feature
of this species.
Leaves become entirely red before they fall in the winter. Young leaves are coppery or bronze-colored.
Flowers: Inconspicuous white flowers appear on thin
racemes about 12" (30 cm)
long. They have mild fragrance.
Fruits: Flowers become dense grape-like clusters.
Each grape is roughly spherical, ¾" (1.9 cm) in size, maturing from green through shades of yellow and red, to deep purple. Fruits appear only on female trees. Each grape contains a single, hard seed.
Edibility: Fruits range from tart to sweet, and can be made
into jelly, said to taste similar to apple jelly, or wine. The seed within is hard enough to crack a tooth,
so be careful processing or eating them.