Florida rosemary

Ceratiola ericoides
Family: Ericaceae

Natural History
Florida rosemary at Henderson Beach State Park, FL
Photo credit: Rebekah D. Wallace, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

Florida rosemary, also called sandhill rosemary or sand heath, is a native shrub distinguished by its rounded form. In spite of the common name, this plant is not related to the culinary herb, rosemary. It does contain volatile oils that give the leaves a slight aromatic scent and help deter animals from eating it.

The shrub gives off a chemical substance that delays the germination of its seeds until after the parent plant has died, thus ensuring a full-sun location for the bush to grow in and reducing competition for water and nutrients. The distinctly rounded shape of the shrub helps to protect it from wind and blowing sand while the revolute leaves aid in the retention of water and allow the plant to survive in harsh, dry (xeric) habitats or drought conditions. Rosemary balds are areas with excessively deep, loose sand and harsh conditions, where rosemary is the only surviving shrub.

While it may be locally abundant, it is considered a threatened species in some parts of its range. Rosemary is easily destroyed by fire.

Rosemary is found in coastal plains from southeastern South Carolina to southern Mississippi and peninsular Florida.


 

Identifying Characteristics

Habitat: Florida rosemary grows best in dry areas with deep, sandy soils. It is commonly found in flatwood hammocks, pinelands, and coastal dunes. Other associated species include cabbage palm, turkey oak, and longleaf pine.
Size/Form: Florida rosemary is a bushy, evergreen shrub that grows from 5' to 7' tall, with erect, basal branches and a distinctly rounded shape.
Stem: The outer bark sloughs off in small, thin plates, exposing brown inner bark that eventually turns gray. Numerous small, raised leaf scars are evident on leafless sections.
Leaves: The simple, persistent, nearly tubular leaves are set closely together in opposite pairs at right angles to each other and appear to be whorled. Leaves are slightly aromatic, dark green, about ΒΌ" to 2" long, with sharply revolute margins that create their needle-like shape. In cross- section, the leaves are squarish.
Fruit: The fruit is a tiny, greenish-yellow, ellipsoid drupe that is clustered along the stems.

 

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