The Coontie is a small, woody cycad. Cycads are seed plants that have a large crown of compound leaves and a stout trunk.This plant is native to the southeast United States specifically Georgia and Florida and in the Bahamas and Puerto Rico. It is thought however to now be extinct in Puerto Rico.
The trunk of this low growing plant can grow from three to twenty five centimeters in height and in diameter. it is often subterranean, (beneath the earth's surface) however. It forms a multi-branched cluster over a period of time and has a tuberous root system. This root system is an extension of the stems that grow above ground. During cold snaps the leaves can die out completely and the plant will lie dormant in the root system. This allows the Coontie to survive in colder weather. When the warmer weather returns the plant will grow new stems and leaves.
The Coontie grows reddish seed cones. They have a distinct acuminate (tapering to a long point) tip. The leaves have five to thirty pairs of leaflets and are from twenty to one hundred centimeters in length. The leaflets are linear to lanceolate (long blade shaped) or oblong-obovate (tear shaped) and are eight to twenty five centimeterslong with indistinct teeth at the tip.The leaves have prickly petioles and are quite often revolute meaning they have rolled edges.
The scientific name for the Coontie is Zamia integrifolia. It is like most cycads, a dioecious, in that it has both male and female plants. The females cones are elongate-ovoid in shape and grow from five to nineteen centimeters long and from four to six centimeters in diameter. The male cones are cylindrical and grow from five to sixteen centimeters long and often grow in clusters.
Habitats for the Coontie includes well drained sands or sandy loam soils. The plant grows best in partial shade or filtered sunlight. Florida, southeastern Georgia, part of central Cuba and the Dominican Republic are where the only known examples of this plant exist at the present time. Extensive land developement in Haiti and Puerto Rico has wiped out the Coontie in those habitats.
The Eumaeus atala butterfly is dependant on the Zamia integrifolia and several other species of Zamia for its survival. This butterfly was only recently rediscovered. It had been considered to be extinct. When the Eumaeus atala caterpillar in at the larval stage it eats only the leaves of the coontie. Large numbers of the Coontie plants are needed to provide food for this butterfly since just a half dozen caterpillars can strip a Coontie plant bare in a short period of time.