The Everglades is a harsh and unforgiving environment where survival depends on a hardy will to thrive. The unconquered Seminoles not only survived the removal campaign of the U.S. government but thrived in the Everglades environment of south Florida. The fluctuation and severity of wet and dry seasons along with insects and impenetrable swamps can make life very difficult.
Yet flora and fauna have found ways to flourish under these conditions (much like the Seminoles) one being the pond apple. The pond apple, also known as the Alligator apple because American Alligators eat the fruit, is a relative to the soursop and cherimoya.
Seminoles eat ripe pond apples or pickle the younger fruits.
The conditions in which the pond apples thrive are very specific – they cannot tolerate dry soil, thrive in swamps and are tolerant of saltwater. Because of the less than palatable taste of the pond apple it is used to graft it’s more sought after relatives like the custard apple. Custard apple farms in Sri Lanka and Australia use pond apples as rootstocks – meaning farmers plant pond apples into the ground and when the plant’s roots are developed, tissue from the custard apple is attached to the pond apple’s stem. The two stems will merge and the top half will bear custard apple fruits and the bottom half will remain pond apple. This technique makes it easier and faster to grow desired trees which may be difficult to grow at first.
One does not imagine that a Seminole fruit would be found in Australia, a country known for its dry desert but these farms are found in Queensland, a more ecological diverse region with sub-tropical conditions. What is even more interesting is that pond apple is now considered an invasive weed threatening Australia’s cattle and cane industries. Grafting pond apples began in Australia in 1912 but was banned from importation, sale or distribution in their Biosecurity Act of 2014. Pond apples have adapted so well that it has spread to undisturbed areas near marshes and river banks. The seeds of pond apples may last several months and are mainly spread through waterways making it difficult to eradicate with herbicides without effecting water systems. The possible disastrous economic effect of pond apples in Australia is so high that landowners are obligated to destroy them either by hand pulling or by fire.
Commercial farmers began to curb the spread of pond apple in the 1980s but learned too late that, just like the Seminole people, pond apples are not easily removed, are adaptable and will thrive despite adversities. When you are biting into your next pond apple, know that there are plenty more growing on the opposite side of the world because someone underestimated their will to survive.
Want to know more? Come research pond apples with our staff and have a walk around the Museum’s boardwalk where you can see some for yourself! The Museum is open every day from 9-5 and is free for Tribal members. The library is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. An appointment is suggested. Please call 863-902-1113 ext. 12252 and ask for Mary Beth, our research coordinator and librarian.
Nora Pinell-Hernandez is the exhibits fabricator for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.