by Kyle Sweet, CGCS
I came to know this rare, unique plant right here on the golf course in the early 90’s, in the midst of the development of The Sanctuary Golf Club golf course and community. Due to the scope of the project involving both the course and community, Dr. Steve Mullins was assigned to the project as the Conservation Field Officer by the City of Sanibel. Dr. Mullins oversaw the management of the flora and fauna that would be impacted by the development activities. The importance and sensitivity of the Joewood was stressed to us many years ago. This very slow grower is easily damaged by disruption and had proven poor transplant success due to its slow growth. Dr. Mullins published an article in The Palmetto in 1993, regarding relocation methods and survival of impacted Joewoods. Due to his diligence and the cooperation of the developers throughout the process, many Joewoods were successfully transplanted, thriving on the golf course today and enjoyed by members and guests alike.
The Joewood is a small evergreen tree that can grow up to a height of 20’, although most specimens around the islands of Sanibel and Captiva are much smaller. Beyond the coastal thickets from Sanibel to Cayo Costa, the Joewood is much more common in the Florida Keys, where the soils are also very sandy and well drained.
Sanibel Island actually hosts the Florida Forest Service state champion Joewood tree. The tree is a 18 – foot tall specimen with five separate trunks, the largest of which is 11” in diameter. Multiple trunks are common in Joewood, often making a single tree resemble a clump of shrubs.
The leaves of the Joewood are simple and spirally arranged. The leaf blades are stiff and mostly recurved, being 1.5” – 2” long and only about ½” in width. Flowers of the Joewood are especially fragrant. The aroma has been compared to that of the Jasmine and is unsurpassed in fragrance by any other native in Florida’s natural plant communities. The flowers are quite small but pack a big punch! Plants will actually flower at any time of the year, but most commonly will flower from mid-spring to early fall, making the summer months on Sanibel a great time to take in the fragrance of this small creamy – white flower.
The ivory colored fruit of the Joewood form following the flowering and often sit on the plant alongside the flowers. The fruit of this special native are valuable to birds and other wildlife, making the Joewood an important part of our island ecology.
In your landscape, the Joewood makes a good specimen plant. It’s tolerant of sandy soils, high pH, salt air and occasional salt water intrusion, making it a plant that can handle the harshest conditions that our island landscapes might encounter. Beyond that, the opportunity to enjoy a small tree that requires little to no trimming due to its slow growth and being able to enjoy the best smelling native around make the Joewood a great choice in your Sanibel native landscape.