Licania michauxii

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Licania michauxii
FL 15655.jpg
Photo taken by Gil Nelson
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta - Flowering plants
Class: Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons
Order: Rosales
Family: Chrysobalanaceae
Genus: Licania
Species: L. michauxii
Binomial name
Licania michauxii
Lica mich dist.jpg
Natural range of Licania michauxii from USDA NRCS Plants Database.

Common name: Gopher apple, Ground oak[1]

Taxonomic notes

Synonyms: Chrysobalanus oblongifolius Michaux; Geobalanus oblongifolius (Michaux) Small; Geobalanus pallidus Small.[1]

Varieties: none.[1]

This species was named for the French botanist Andre Michaux, who discovered this plant in the late 1700's.[2]


Licania michauxii is a perennial, woody groundcover species, with mature stems only reaching 20 centimeters above the ground.[3] The leathery, long, dark green leaves make this species resemble an oak seedling.[2] It is often found in thickets on poor, dry, sandy soils[4] and easily spread by rhizomes that grow 1 to 10 centimeters below the soil (Bell and Taylor 1982, Taylor 1992). The flowers of L. michauxii are small, yellow, and clustered in triangular-shaped terminal cymes.[5]

"Low shrub to ca. 4 dm tall, with an extensive underground stem system. The stems above ground very slender, rarely more than 5 mm in diam. While the underground stems frequently measure as much as 5 cm in diam. Leaves simple, alternate, evergreen, oblanceolate, 4-10 cm long, 1.3-5 cm wide, finely undulate, entire, glabrous, and lustrous; stipules very small. Inflorescence a terminal panicle of cymes. Hypanthium and sepals are pubescent. Sepals 1-1.5 mm long; petals white, 1.5-2.5 cm long, densely pubescent; stamens 10-15; style 1. Drupe ellipsoid, 2-3 cm long."[6]

Licania michauxii does not have specialized underground storage units apart from its rhizomes.[7] Diaz-Toribio and Putz (2021) recorded this species to have an non-structural carbohydrate concentration of 59.7 mg/g (ranking 69 out of 100 species studied) and water content of 62.6% (ranking 70 out of 100 species studied).[7]


L. michauxii ranges from southeast South Carolina to southern Florida, and west to Louisianna.[1] The Monroe County population is disjunct from the Miami-Dade County to the pine rocklands of Big Pine Key.[8]



Habitats of L. michauxii include pine-palmetto woods; dry pine barrens; sandhills; scrub above wetland depression; shrubby borders of depression marshes; and wooded slopes of ravines. It has been found in disturbed sites such as cutover flatwoods and dirt roads and is a good soil stabilizer.[4] Associated species include Pinus palustris, Quercus laevis, Aristida stricta, Rhynchosia, Bumelia tenax, Juniperus silicicola, Myrica cerifera, Pinus clausa, Quercus geminata, Sabal palmetto and Chrysoma. Soils include those of Astatula (Typic Quartzipsamments) and Paola (Spodic Quartzipsamments) types.[9]

In dense patches of L. michauxii hogs selectively forage and destroy lichens in large quantities.[10]

L. michauxii was found to reduce its frequency and density in response to soil disturbance by roller chopping in northwest Florida sandhills.[11] It also decreased its cover in response to clearcutting and chopping in north Florida flatwoods.[12] It has shown resistance to regrowth in reestablished native habitats that were disturbed by these practices.[11][12]

Licania michauxii is an indicator species for the Panhandle Xeric Sandhills community type as described in Carr et al. (2010).[13]


Flowers in January, April through August with peak inflorescence in May and June[14]. It then fruits June through October.[9] The fruit is an elliptical drupe and is edible

Seed dispersal

This species is thought to be dispersed by consumption by vertebrates.[15]

Fire ecology

This species is found in habitats that experience fire annually or in long intervals. Ward and Taylor (1999) found a stand of L. michauxii that consists of many tree-form plants that reach over a meter tall.[16] This stand is found on Merritt Island on a narrow strip of land between Mosquito Lagoon to the east and the Indian River to the west and bounded by a dredge canal to the north. These surrounding features protect this stand from any naturally occurring wildfires and records show no historical fires in this area.

Herbivory and toxicology

The fruit is eaten by gopher tortoises, raccoons, opossums, and foxes.[17]

The following Hymenoptera species were observed visiting flowers of Licania michauxii at the Archbold Biological Station: bees from the family Apidae such as Apis mellifera, Epeolus glabratus and E. zonatus, plasterer bees from the family Colletidae such as Colletes sp. A, sweat bees from the family Halictidae such as Agapostemon splendens, Augochlorella aurata, Augochloropsis metallica, A. sumptuosa, Lasioglossum nymphalis and Sphecodes heraclei, wasps from the family Leucospididae such as Leucospis robertsoni and L. slossonae, leafcutting bees from the family Megachilidae such as Megachile brevis pseudobrevis and M. rugifrons, spider wasps from the family Pompilidae such as Anoplius relativus and Paracyphonyx funereus, thread-waisted wasps from the family Sphecidae such as Ammophila urnaria, Bembecinus nanus floridanus, Bembix sayi, Bicyrtes quadrifasciata, Cerceris blakei, C. flavofasciata floridensis, C. fumipennis, Microbembex monodonta and Stictiella serrata, and wasps from the family Vespidae such as Euodynerus castigatus rubrivestris, Pachodynerus erynnis, Parancistrocerus salcularis rufulus and Stenodynerus fundatiformis.[18]

Diseases and parasites

Galls made by Lopesia can be found on the subterranean stems of the gopher apple.[3]

Conservation, cultivation, and restoration

This species tolerates a wide range of soil pH[19] but does not tolerate long term flooding by salt or brackish water.[8] It is extremely difficult to transplant.[17]

Cultural use

The Gopher Apple is being studied for cancer fighting properties.[20][21]

Photo Gallery

References and notes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Weakley, A.S. 2015. Flora of the southern and mid-atlantic states. Working Draft of 21 May 2015. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
  2. 2.0 2.1 [[1]] Eat the Weeds. Accessed: January 19, 2016
  3. 3.0 3.1 Gagné, Raymond J., and Kenneth L. Hibbard. “A New Species of Cecidomyia (diptera: Cecidomyiidae) Feeding on Resin of Baldcypress”. The Florida Entomologist 91.3 (2008): 431–435.
  4. 4.0 4.1 [[2]]Dave's Garden. Accessed: January 19, 2016
  5. [[3]] Floridata. Accessed: January 19, 2016
  6. Radford, Albert E., Harry E. Ahles, and C. Ritchie Bell. Manual of the Vascular Flora of the Carolinas. 1964, 1968. The University of North Carolina Press. 569. Print.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Diaz-Toribio, M.H. and F. E. Putz 2021. Underground carbohydrate stores and storage organs in fire-maintained longleaf pine savannas in Florida, USA. American Journal of Botany 108: 432-442.
  8. 8.0 8.1 [[4]] Accessed: January 19, 2016
  9. 9.0 9.1 Florida State University Robert K. Godfrey Herbarium database. URL: Last accessed: Collectors: States and Counties: Compiled by Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy.
  10. Hawkes, C. V. and E. S. Menges (2003). "Effects of Lichens on Seedling Emergence in a Xeric Florida Shrubland." Southeastern Naturalist 2(2): 223-234.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Hebb, E.A. (1971). Site Preparation Decreases Game Food Plants in Florida Sandhills.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Moore, W.H., B.F. Swindel, and W.S. Terry. (1982). Vegetative Response to Clearcutting and Chopping in a North Florida Flatwoods Forest. Journal of Range Management 35(2):214-218.
  13. Carr, S.C., K.M. Robertson, and R.K. Peet. 2010. A vegetation classification of fire-dependent pinelands of Florida. Castanea 75:153-189.
  14. Nelson, G. PanFlora: Plant data for the eastern United States with emphasis on the Southeastern Coastal Plains, Florida, and the Florida Panhandle. Accessed: 19 MAY 2021
  15. Kirkman, L. Katherine. Unpublished database of seed dispersal mode of plants found in Coastal Plain longleaf pine-grasslands of the Jones Ecological Research Center, Georgia.
  16. Ward, D. B. and W. K. Taylor (1999). "Discovery of Tree-Form Gopher Apple (Licania michauxii), with Implication of an Arboreous Ancestor." Castanea 64(3): 263-265.
  17. 17.0 17.1 [[5]] Sharon's Florida. Accessed: January 19, 2016
  18. Deyrup, M.A. and N.D. 2015. Database of observations of Hymenoptera visitations to flowers of plants on Archbold Biological Station, Florida, USA.
  19. [[6]] University of Florida Extension. Accessed: January 19, 2016
  20. Radford, A.E., H.E. Ahles, and C.R. Bell. 1968. Manual of the Vascular Flora of Carolinas. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC. 1183 pp.
  21. Denhof, Carol. 2011. Understory Plant Spotlight Gopher Apple Licania michauxii Prance. The Longleaf Leader. Vol. IV. Iss. 4. Page 7