16 May


Scaevola plumieri


John and George traipsed the dunes on Hutchinson Island near Jensen Beach this overcast morning.  All the beach and dune species were alive with fragrance and color:  Baybean, Beach Sunflower, Coughbush (Ernodea), Railroad Vine, Sea Rocket, Spanish Bayonets, White Indigoberry perfumed like its cousin Gardenia, and more.  One of the showier showoffs was Inkberry,  Scaevola plumieri, a low sprawling shrub of low seaside dunes.

Inkberry on the dunes. All photos today by John Bradford.

Inkberry on the dunes. All photos today by John Bradford.

What’s it doing here!? The vast majority of the 90 species of Scaevola are Australian, with just two species dispersed widely.  An Australian Scaevola encountered in Florida is the garden flower known as Fanflower, Scaevola aemula, and its hybrid derivatives.   We’ll leave Fanflower and it cultivars  to the garden blogs.

Inkberry flower

Inkberry flower

The two widely dispersed species are our own native Scaevola plumieri around the tropical Atlantic from Florida through the Caribbean to Africa, and into the Indian Ocean on Sri Lanka where it reappeared recently after decades of presumed extinction.  The fleshy purple-black inky fruits seem to owe their transoceanic dispersal to flotation and to sea birds.   The lopsided split flowers remind me of Lobelias.

Inky inkberry

Inky inkberry

The other widespread species, Scaevola sericea (aka S taccada), prefers the tropical Pacific, including Hawaii where it is native and important in landscaping.  Scaevola taccada meets S. plumieri in the Indian Ocean.

And the two meet again in Florida where S. taccada (Beach Naupaka) is an invasive exotic escaped probably from landscaping.  It fruits are white, as opposed to the black Inkberries, and its leaves are curled as opposed to the flat leaf blades in Inkberry    Fruits of Beach Naupaka reportedly last at least a year in seawater.

Beach Naupaka, the invasive exotic species, with curled leaves.

Beach Naupaka, the invasive exotic species, with curled leaves.

How plants get their names is always fun to know, especially when rooted in drama.  Scaevola flowers look like half is missing, as I might after removal of an arm.  The original Scaevola (Latin left-handed) was a Roman originally named Gaius Mucius sentenced to death by the nasty Etruscan invaders around 600 BC.  To show a little contempt of court, Gaius thrust his right hand impudently into flames.  Ouch!  And he went down in history as the world’s first famous southpaw.

You may experience a burning sensation

You may experience a burning sensation


Posted by on May 16, 2014 in Inkberry


Tags: ,

20 responses to “Inkberry

  1. Uncle Tree

    May 17, 2014 at 7:19 am

    That left-handed flower is pretty interesting, George.
    Tell John “Nice shots!” for Uncle Tree. The leaves
    on this plant look very protective. Is it a succulent?

  2. George Rogers

    May 17, 2014 at 7:53 am

    Uncle T, Thanks, and you are correct—the leaves on Inkberry are succulent and tough as leather. One study showed the distribution to be controlled in large part by the amount of summer rainfall. . Weirdly, Beach Naupaka has its leaves much less succulent.

  3. theshrubqueen

    May 17, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    Does that look a lot like the Coastal Cocoplum?

  4. George Rogers

    May 17, 2014 at 6:56 pm

    There is similarity, but inkberry has substantially stiffer thicker truly succulent leaves. Also, hard to see, but cocoplum has two little glands under the leaf near the petiole. If you see inkberry in the flesh you will see the difference in leaf thickness conspicuously. As opposed to our family photos, the camera is “slimming.”

  5. theshrubqueen

    May 17, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    Interesting, thanks, I will have to see if I can find the Inkberry to compare. I don’t think the camera has that effect on me..
    The Inkberry I know is Ilex glabra.

  6. George Rogers

    May 17, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    It is on the dunes up and down the coast, including Hutchinson Island. Yea, that’s the problem with English names. When I first moved to FL I used “inkberry” for I. glabra, but have since switched to gallberry which spawns no confusion…and if you taste one, it is simply galling.

  7. Chris Lockhart

    May 17, 2014 at 11:17 pm

    Hey George.

    Thanks for featuring this cool coastal plant… and it’s awful invasive relative from Hawaii (tho it may have originated elsewhere).

    Have a great weekend!


    • George Rogers

      May 18, 2014 at 8:33 am

      Studies show that the center of origin for Scaevolas is Australia where approx. 65 of the approx. 90 species remain. Over the eons there have been multiple separate apparently natural arrivals of originally Australian stock in Hawaii. Of course evolution does not stop the moment a seed leaves the Australian shores, and there have been arrivals elsewhere too. My guess and it is only a guess is that the presence of S. taccada in FL is its landscaping prominence in Hawaii, as a “good” “landscape with natives” plant” coupled with the worldwide interchange of landscape plants. What amazes me is that Scaevola sericea (taccada) and its progenitors have spread around the tropical Pacific naturally, and that Scaevola plumieri and its progenitors spread the other wayvnaturally, wrapping the Earth from opposite directions spanning thousands of miles and who knows how many millennia, re-met in the Indian Ocean….and after all that space and time they look alike. (Although they are not close in studies showing relationships within Scaevola.) Then locally toss in a species (S. aemula) taken from the Australian center of origin and even it does not look all that different. Great genus to study the tick-tick-tick of DNA change from a known point of origin. At least the two world-travelling species can’t hybridize…(I hope!).

  8. theshrubqueen

    May 18, 2014 at 7:37 am

    Ha, ha, love that horticultural humor. I think I like this Inkberry better.

    • George Rogers

      May 18, 2014 at 8:46 am

      There’s room in our hearts to love them all.

  9. George Rogers

    May 18, 2014 at 4:04 pm

    Well, I have a psychological quirk and enjoy the exotic weeds in a way. Hopefully horticultural ethics and awareness have improved to limit future cases (with continued room for improvement!), we can’t wave a magic wand to make them disappear, and I don’t think biocontrol programs have huge promise against hundreds of bioinvasive species (although they help secure research grants and newspaper articles)—so invasive species are here, part of our picture, part of our context, part of our future—might as well embrace them with at least interest and fascination….and hey, there’s some good in everything. Even the loathed BP can be pretty, and those billions of berries must benefit some wildlife. I’d never invite it, but since it’s already in the door might as well enjoy the party anyhow…and have another drink.

  10. Beth Burger

    May 18, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    Hey, the culinary spice, pink peppercorns, is BP!

  11. George Rogers

    May 19, 2014 at 8:37 am

    Hi Beth, There ya have it! Great add-on.And so nice to hear from you. You ARE invited to the BP party.

  12. Linda Birmingham

    May 20, 2014 at 11:22 am

    Hello – I really enjoyed this post. Great photos!

    I became interested in native plants a little over a year ago, and have replaced most of my lawn with large beds of mostly nursery grown native plants. It is pretty exciting watching it grow and learning about the plants as I go. I am hoping to have enough berry producing plants to keep the mockingbirds well fed year round. I have 2 white indigoberries that have been in the ground for about 6 months. I am looking forward to the flowers (none yet) – I didn’t know they were fragrant! They are growing very slowly, but look healthy.



    Linda Birmingham

    • George Rogers

      May 22, 2014 at 7:28 am

      Linda, Having natives in the home landscape, as you are experiencing, is so much more fun, beneficial, and useful than the general horticultural world seems to want to embrace. So pretty, so trouble-free, so in tune with the broader environment, so pre-adapted to our conditions, so attractive and supportive for native critters, so free of exotic invasion, and so unprofitable for the chemical industry. Which nursery supplies your plants? You’ll find those White Indigoberries to grow like glaciers, which can be a good thing for the patient, and their shapes become sculptures. Anything in the Coffee Family is good in my book. Pan’s Garden had (still has?) a kinky White Indigo Berry artistically in an urn. So many wonderful species to know and grow, but one of my favorites for landscaping is Jamaica Caper—likewise slow, but not too slow, tough, forgiving, and with attractive flowers that change color. The ones in my front yard are in bloom now.

  13. Jen Foglia

    May 20, 2014 at 9:31 pm

    You know I love the history of how plants received their names especially if its interesting like the southpaw! I have to say that the inkberry resembles a blueberry except for the dusty skin. Are they poisonous? Also, I know we saw the unripened Florida blueberries on our last field trip, do they look like traditional blueberries? Btw, on my way out I stopped at the little walkway on the left and found a cluster of (holding breath) MUSCADINE GRAPES! I was quite impressed with myself for finding them. Lol. Also, I wanted to tell you that I have possibly found the cure to the plumeria yellow spores that invade every frangipani they can. I have also found a cure for the rust and disease on muscadines, Coffee grounds and granular systemic. I dont use the systemic on my muscadines, just the coffee grounds. I did some research and found that the coffee turns the soil acidic and makes the leaves unsavory, the systemic prevents the insects from carrying the yellow spores to every tree (is this true because it seems to be working?). Its the first time ive had my frangipanis 100% free of disease. Just thought you’d like to know!

    • George Rogers

      May 22, 2014 at 7:17 am

      Hello Jen, What a pleasure to hear from you and all your summer experiences. I do not know what happens if a person eats an inkberry, my guess is they at least do not taste tasty. A problem with most plant photos is you can’t judge size, unless a scale is put in the photo. Those inkberries are much larger than a blueberry, even though it looks just like one in the photo, more like an oversized grape or undersized plum. Speaking of blueberries and grapes, a few ripe blueberries in Corbett Wildlife Area improved my day yesterday—they were sweet and delicious, though too sparse for a muffin. Glad you are moving forward in your exploration of the grape world…how are your grape cuttings doing? And I’m extra glad your plumerias are lookin’ clean and pretty. Although I have no relevant knowledge on bugs and spores, you are wading in waters beyond my depth, I can attest from personal experience at this moment, coffee is the cure for much of what ails grumpy humans getting ready to drive off to work.

  14. Calogero Mira

    August 28, 2014 at 6:35 am

    Maybe I will learn more about Scaevola Thanks. And this post also on NetworkedBlogs? I would like to see your posts there too.

    • George Rogers

      August 28, 2014 at 9:19 am

      Absolutely—both of them, or all 3 including local garden flowers. Not too sure about the NW blogs…will check it out. Thanks


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