Finding Native “Apples” in Florida

The Story of a Field Trip Leader who Just Wouldn’t Give Up

By Sande Habali

Native “Apples” in Florida!  “Apples” in Volusia County?  Thanks to the dedication of our intrepid field trip leader, Sonya Guidry, the two year search for the endangered Harrisia fragrans is over!  Pawpaw chapter members located a Prickly “apple” orchard in southern Volusia County!

Sonya and I first met Dr. Jon Moore from Florida Atlantic University, Wilkes Honor College, where he presented a paper on the Prickly Apple at the 2012 FNPS Conference in Plant City. His research paper was entitled "Transplantation of the Endangered Fragrant Prickly Apple Cactus, Harrisia fragrans, in St. Lucie and Indian River Counties." He explained the scrub habitat and conditions of its survival historically and that it exists now in St Lucie and Brevard County coastlines. He mentioned it could “possibly” be found in Volusia County and gave Sonya the coordinates. When he said it would be “hard to find”; I think that was all the challenge she needed to make it her mission to go out and locate this important cactus!

First, Sonya tried by land to find the little guys. If anyone has ever been to Castle Windy Midden in Canaveral National Seashore  (CNS), you know why the area is known as Mosquito Lagoon. Sonya and I battled swarms of mosquitoes while we traipsed through the dense foliage in search of Harrisia fragrans. And by “we,” I certainly mean Sonya!  I was too busy trying to find sunlight to relieve the buzzing noises and discomfort that follows. Of course, we realized we were a bit too far north and we were not looking in the right terrain. We needed to be in scrub-like conditions.

But Sonya was not ready to give up. She began asking anyone and everyone she met with a boat to take her by water to find the Fragrant Prickly apple.  She continued to keep the subject “alive,” by discussing her quest and speaking with Dr. Moore again at another event.

The fuzzy fungus on the endangered
Fragrant Prickly Apple Cactus (Harrisia fragrans)


Eventually, Sonya added another feather to her cap and became a tour volunteer and plant ID guide at CNS. Naturally, her enthusiasm for finding Harrisia fragrans, carried over to the other volunteers who then enlisted the help of a CNS Park Service boat with Captain Walt at the helm. The exploratory group of CNS volunteers, fellow Pawpaw members Dot Backes and Sonya, and MDC’s kayak specialist, Warren Reynolds set off in early April. Success! Not only did they find lots of cool treasures, but they found the Prickly Apple, Gumbo Limbo (Bursera simaruba), and strangler fig. Sonya’s determination paid off.

Now she wanted to share her findings with her Pawpaw Chapter folks and friends. An outing to Canaveral National Seashore became our June field trip in 2015.

Fruit of the Fragrant Prickly Apple Cactus (Harrisia fragrans)

The fruit of the Fragrant Prickly Apple Cactus (Harrisia fragrans)

Looking for “apples” and other treasures located in Canaveral National Seashore will be part of the field trips offered by  Pawpaw Chapter at the 2016 Conference. 

Photos by Sonya Guidry
Posted by Ginny Stibolt


Juliet said…
Way to go Sonya!!! Did you let FNAI know about your find?
Unknown said…
Wish I could have tagged along!

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