|Historical Museum of Southern Florida
by Claudia Van Essen
Hand piecing, hand appliqué with machine embellishment, paint, embroidery
Seminoles learned to extract and produce arrowroot starch from the root of coontie, a native cycad. Seminoles and later pioneers used the starch as corn starch is used today, for thickening and for baking. An early coontie starch factory sat "on the site where K-Mart is now, on Southwest 104th Street and US1," notes Ms. Van Essen. But Miami's early industry proved harmful to its own ecosystem. Upon harvesting the root, the coontie plant dies. Soon coontie became rare in South Florida. "When the coontie became endangered, the Atala butterfly became endangered with it," says Ms. Van Essen. "The Atala butterfly lays eggs only on the coontie and was not known to have been reestablished until the early 1980s." Coontie -- and Atala butterflies -- are coming back slowly in South Florida.
Historical Museum of Southern Florida