Hog Plum, Tallowwood
How many Florida native species are worldwide? Few, and Hog-Plum is one, occurring in sandy windblown places, often more or less near the sea, from Florida to Australia. The fruits float, apparently over long times and over long distances, and birds probably help get them around. The name “Hog Plum” is confusing because a plant better known under that name is Spondias mombin, which has a similar orange drupe. In parts of its range Ximenia americana is important in the kitchen and in the pharmacy. For instance, in Cameroon it is cultivated for raw fruits, for fermented drinks, and for its combustible oil. The seeds contain cyanide, limiting the culinary value of the oil, which nonetheless seems to have cooking applications, as well as uses in personal grooming. Reported medicinal uses for products from this thorny shrubby species are numerous, including treatment of scars, worms, leprosy, and sexual problems, hopefully not simultaneously. Ximenia caffra is a related African species likewise grown for its edible fruits and for the abundant oil in its seeds.
A second oddity of Hog Plum is that, like several other scrub species, it is a partial parasite, ripping off the roots of neighboring plants. Additional scrubbish species of similar inclinations in our area include Black-Senna (Seymeria pectinata), Love Vine (Cassytha filiformis), and Graytwig (Schoepfia schreberi aka S. chrysophylloides). Parasitism is an apparent adaptation to life in nutrient-poor sands.
The flowers are oddly bearded on the inner surface, probably to exclude unwelcome nectar thieves while allowing “proper” bee pollinators, and/or the hairs may be tactile nectar guides to visiting bees. Honeybees are reported to be effective pollinators, although some very limited fruit-set occurs even with pollinator exclusion. [This post is a collaborative effort by John Bradford, Billy Cunningham, and George Rogers]