Gopher Apple

leafy green plant with small white flowers covering a sand dune gopher apple
Gopher apple at Tiger Creek Preserve in Polk County, Florida.
Photo by Scott Zona. Some rights reserved.

Gopher apple is a Florida native evergreen groundcover that grows to only 3 to 12 inches tall. It spreads by underground stems that send up slender aerial shoots. Often seen on dunes and roadside scrub habitats, mature plants will spread over several square yards and form a thick groundcover.

Gopher apple is in the same family, Chrysobalanaceae, as another Florida native, coco plum. Gopher apple has stiff, glossy lime-green leaves and small white flowers that appear in summer. The fruit is ½ to 1 inch long, starting out white and maturing to a pink, purplish, or red color, containing a single seed. The ripe fruits are a favorite of gopher tortoises and mammals.

Gopher apple has a very high tolerance for salt spray, making it a wonderful choice for coastal landscapes. It grows throughout the state and performs best in dry, deep sands in areas with full sun. Salt, drought, and fire tolerant, gopher apple is ideal for stabilizing sandy banks; its tolerance of harsh conditions makes it an almost indestructible groundcover.

It should be noted that gopher apple’s botanical name has recently been changed from Licania michauxii to Geobalanus oblongifolius, but the new name has yet to be widely accepted and used by Florida gardeners and naturalists. You may find it referred to by either name. You can read more about that at the Atlas of Florida Plants, from the Institute for Systematic Botany, University of South Florida.

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