The common name for Cupaniopsis anacardioides is carrotwood. It is also known as Beach Tamarind, Green-leaved Tamarind, and the Tuckeroo tree. It is native to Australia, Irian Jaya (Indonesia) and Papua New Guinea.
A fast-growing evergreen tree that grows to a height of about thirty-five feet. Its leaves are large, compound and are made up of four to ten oblong leaflets. Each leaf is four to eight inches long and attached by a swollen stalk. Leaflet edges tend to be wavy with rounded tips that are often indented and alternate along the stems. Flowering occurs in the winter from January to March. The flowers are unisexual with each cluster containing both mail and female flowers. It has a brightly colored fruit that is yellow, three-lobed capsule. When ripe, May to June, the fruit splits open to expose three shiny black seeds encased in red or orange fleshy tissue.
The carrotwood was introduced in 1995 in eastern Florida and became a popular landscape tree throughout southern Florida in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Wild carrotwood seedlings began to be seen in the wild in various habitats by 1990. In 1996 it was documented that the carrotwood was seen in natural areas in fourteen Florida counties from Brevard and Hillsborough counties southward. It currently parallels the distribution of the mangrove tree species. One thing that may limit its potential distribution is its cold tolerance. Although in test specimens in northern Florida, it has withstood temperatures to about 22 F (-6 C).
It is tolerant of shade, sunlight, salt, poor soils and drainage and can adapt to dry areas. It appears in disturbed and undisturbed sites. Consequently, the carrotwood inhabits a variety of habitats. These include dunes, coastal strand, coastal hammocks, sand pine scrub, mangrove swamps, slash pine flatwoods, cypress swamps, river banks and freshwater marshes.
The carrotwood poses a special threat to Florida’s coastal ecosystems like mangrove swamps and tropical hammocks. Crucial erosion control, water quality benefits, and food and shelter for wildlife is provided by the coastal plant community. Once introduced, the carrotwood forms dense monocultures out-competing and crowding out native plants for available light and nutrients.
Florida’s mangroves provide a critical habitat for wading and diving birds, many of which are designated “Species of Special Concern,” and serve as nursery grounds for crabs, other crustaceans, invertebrates, commercial and recreational fish. The impact of the carrotwood is serious and far-reaching. From development, tropical storms and hurricanes, mangroves and coastal hammocks are continuing losing ground. Due to the carrotwood’s popularity and fast growing that is very adaptable and widely panted, its impact to the mangroves and other habitats are expected to increase.
Chemical control is the most common and effective method of control. Currently, there is no biological control. Use of chemicals or heavy equipment must be used with care in mangrove and wetland areas to avoid impacts to sensitive flora and fauna. A few counties and municipalities have ordinances restricting the use of the carrotwood as a preventative measure.