Reaching a height of 35 to 50 feet, seagrape can take on a variety of shapes, depending upon its location but typically forms a multi-stemmed vase shape if left unpruned. The large, almost circular, broad, leathery, evergreen leaves of seagrape have distinctive red veins. The leaves frequently turn completely red before they fall in winter. The new young foliage is a beautiful bronze color which is set off nicely against the dark green, shiny leaves. The inconspicuous ivory flowers are produced on foot-long racemes and are followed by dense clusters of 3/4-inch diameter green grapes on female trees only, ripening to a luscious deep purple in late summer. Males do not produce fruit. The grapes are often used to make a delicious jelly and are also popular with birds and squirrels.
Scientific name: Coccoloba uvifera
Pronunciation: koe-koe-LOE-buh yoo-VIFF-er-uh
Common name(s): Seagrape
USDA hardiness zones: 10A through 11 (Figure 2)
Origin: native to Florida, Central America, northwest portion of South America and the Caribbean
UF/IFAS Invasive Assessment Status: native
Uses: street without sidewalk; screen; specimen; shade; hedge; reclamation; fruit; tree lawn 3–4 feet wide; tree lawn 4–6 feet wide; tree lawn > 6 ft wide; urban tolerant; highway median; bonsai.
Height: 35 to 50 feet
Spread: 20 to 30 feet
Crown uniformity: symmetrical
Crown shape: vase
Crown density: moderate
Growth rate: moderate
Leaf arrangement: alternate
Leaf type: simple
Leaf margin: entire
Leaf shape: orbiculate
Leaf venation: reticulate, brachidodrome, pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: evergreen, broadleaf evergreen
Leaf blade length: 8 to 12 inches
Leaf color: green with red veins
Fall color: red
Fall characteristic: not showy
Flower color: cream-colored
Flower characteristics: not showy; emerge in clusters on racemes
Flowering: primarily spring to early summer, but may also occur year-round
Fruit shape: elliptical
Fruit length: ¾ inch
Fruit covering: fleshy achene
Fruit color: green to reddish purple
Fruit characteristics: attracts birds; showy; fruit/leaves a litter problem
Fruiting: emerges in early summer and ripens by early fall
Trunk and Branches
Trunk/branches: branches droop; showy; typically multi-trunked; no thorns
Bark: smooth and mottled with whitish, gray, and brown, thin-peeling plates
Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure
Breakage: susceptible to breakage
Current year twig color: brown
Current year twig thickness: thick
Wood specific gravity: unknown
Light requirement: full sun, partial sun, or partial shade
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; alkaline; acidic; well-drained
Drought tolerance: high
Aerosol salt tolerance: high
Roots: not a problem
Winter interest: no
Outstanding tree: no
Ozone sensitivity: unknown
Verticillium wilt susceptibility: unknown
Pest resistance: resistant to pests/diseases
Use and Management
The contorted, twisting trunk (which can grow to two feet in diameter) and upright branching habit makes seagrape an interesting, picturesque shade tree or specimen planting or, it can be pruned into a dense hedge, screen, or windbreak. Because of its size and coarse texture, seagrape as a clipped hedge is more suited to foundation plantings for large buildings where it will lend a tropical effect. It is also used as a seaside hedge in commercial landscapes, but requires hand pruning, since the large leaves do not lend themselves well to shearing.
Pruning is required two or three times during the first 10 years after planting to train the multiple trunks so they are well-attached to the tree. Be sure branches do not develop embedded bark, since they will be poorly attached to the trunk and could split from the trunk. But the wood and the tree is generally very strong and durable following this developmental and corrective pruning. The tree will then perform well with little care, except for occasional pruning of lower branches to create clearance for vehicles. Some people object to the litter created by the large, slowly-decomposing leaves which fall from the tree during the year.
Requiring full sun and sandy, well-drained soils, seagrape is excellent for seaside locations since it is highly salt- and drought-tolerant. Plants should be well-watered until established and then should only require occasional pruning to control shape.
There is a variegated cultivar available.
Propagation is by seed or cuttings.
Stems are subject to seagrape borer which can kill branches.
A nipple gall causes raised, red nipples on the upper leaf surface.
No diseases are of major concern.
Koeser, A. K., Hasing, G., Friedman, M. H., and Irving, R. B. 2015. Trees: North & Central Florida. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Koeser, A.K., Friedman, M.H., Hasing, G., Finley, H., Schelb, J. 2017. Trees: South Florida and the Keys. Gainesville: University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.