Though Coccoloba is a large and diverse genus of about 150 species, the most commonly grown species is the sea grape or Coccoloba uvifera. This large shrub is native to the tropical Americas, spanning from South America all the way up to south Florida, and derives its common name from its tendency to grow along the coastline. Though they can grow as tall as twenty-five feet, when grown in gardens sea grape is usually kept around ten.
It can be grown inside as a seedling and then moved outside to tropical gardens as it matures, and it is a popular ornamental plant in the gardens of Florida and the Caribbean islands. C. uvifera is dioecious, which means a single specimen grows both male and female flowers and can self-pollinate. Its foliage is deep green and shiny, with long variegated leaves — about six to ten inches — that turn orange as they mature and eventually fall. The most distinctive attribute of the sea grape is its clusters of fruit, which grow from green to purple as they mature and droop down during the growing season. The sea grape can tolerate both wind and salt. This is a very popular plant along tropical seasides and can be pruned into a pleasant ornamental shrub — not to mention its delectable fruit.
- Light: Lots of tropical sun, although the plant is moderately shade tolerant.
- Water: The sea grape is drought tolerant, but should be watered if grown in a container. Once transferred to the ground, watering is not necessary as long as you live in a tropical area with lots of rainfall, but regular watering can help it grow fuller.
- Temperature: Warm temperatures. C. uvifera is not frost tolerant.
- Soil: Sandy soil is best, but it tolerates a wide range of soil conditions.
- Fertilizer: It can be fertilized with a complete fertilizer like 8-8-8 if planted in soil with low nutrient levels, but will otherwise thrive without regular fertilization.
The sea grape propagates easily by seeds or cuttings. To propagate by cuttings, sever a branch in the beginning of spring and replant as soon as possible in a mix of peat moss potting mix and sand. Make sure to keep the cuttings moist and in a sunny area, and their drainage should be good. The seedlings can grow in a container until they become large enough to transfer into the ground. Propagation by seed is fairly simple — extract the seeds by hand, allow them to dry out, and replant in the same mix you’d use for cuttings.
Generally not necessary for the sea grape. They can be cultivated in a pot and then transferred; once they outgrow their pot, there’s really no reason to repot them. If the roots are protruding from the pot and the plant is still very young, they can be transferred to a larger container, preferably a plastic one.
The sea grape is only one of several other Coccoloba species that also grow grapelike fruit and are closely related. For instance, the Grandleaf Seagrape (C. pubescens) is very similar in appearance but is much larger, with terminal spikes of flowers over two feet high. The pigeonplum (C. diversifolia) is also a common seaside plant; its leaves are a darker green and it grows taller than the sea grape.
C. uvifera responds well to pruning and should be pared back in late summer in order to maintain the ideal shape; when left unchecked, it tends to sprawl. Watering it regularly can ensure that it reaches its full potential, and definitely keep it in warm tropical conditions that mirror its natural habitat. This tough and tolerant shrub can be a great ornamental plant for those along the tropical coastline.