Chrysophyllum oliviforme


Satinleaf, photographed along the Satinleaf Trail, MacArthur Beach State Park, North Palm Beach, Palm Beach County, in January 2019.

Satinleaf's boldly colored foliage makes it a popular choice as a landscaping tree, particularly in South Florida. Unfortunately, its presence in the wild is not so robust.

Satinleaf is a Florida native scientifically known as Chrysophyllum oliviforme, the name coming from the bronze, or coppery colored underside of its leaves and the small, olive-like fruit that it produces. Its range extends throughout South Florida, including the Keys, and up the Atlantic Coast as far north as Brevard County. Florida is the only state where it is native, but its range includes the Caribbean and Central America.

It has been exported to parts of the Pacific, particularly French Polynesia and Hawaii, and to parts of Asia, notably Singapore. It is an invasive pest in Hawaii. By contrast, Florida officially considers it threatened, mostly because of declining habitat.

Satinleaf is a medium-sized tree, usually reaching a height of 20 to 30 feet, sometimes exceeding 40 feet in South Florida. Its most notable feature is its leaves, dark, glossy green above, coppery below, which give the tree shimmering effect when the wind blows through. The leaves are arranged alternately along the stem, are elliptical to oval in shape and are four inches or more in length. The flowers are small, have five petals and are an unspectacular yellow-white. They do bloom throughout the year but peak in summer and fall. The flowers give way to small, olive-shaped fruit that go from green to a deep purple or black when ripe. The fruit is edible and sweet but chewy to the point that it's used by some as a sort of chewing gum. In fact some call the tree the chewy olive. The fruit also can be made into a jelly. Birds and other animals eat the fruit.

In the wild, satinleaf grows in hammocks and coastal mounds, places where there is at least some organic material in the soil. It takes to full sun or light shade and is moderately drought tolerant once it is established. It can be top-killed (the foliage dies, but the plant lives) during a frost, particularly in the northern parts of its range. In landscaping, it's used as an accent tree or as a border screen. Its foliage is dense, making it a good shade tree. One downside is the fruit, which can stain concrete if the tree extends over a sidewalk or driveway. Satinleaf also has a reputation of being difficult to establish.

Satinleaf wood is extremely hard and has a reputation of being difficult to work. It's used to make fence posts and charcoal. The Seminoles would use the ash of Satinleaf to make a medicine to cleanse the body and strengthen marriages. In the Bahamas, satinleaf is used in traditional medicine to treat circulatory problems; among the chemicals found in satinleaf are coumarins, which are used to make warfarin, a blood thinner sold under the brand name Coumadin. (Coumarins are found in many other plants as well.)

Satinleaf is a member of Sapotaceae, a family of tropical, evergreen trees and shrubs that includes the sapodilla tree. Other common names and spellings include damson plum, will star-apple and satin leaf. Satinleaf has an alternative scientific name, or synonym of Cynodendron oliveforme.

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Published by Wild South Florida, PO Box 7241, Delray Beach, FL 33482.

Photographs by David Sedore. Photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without permission.