Technically a shrub, gopher apple looks more like a bunch of oak seedlings or some kind of weird leather-fern ground cover. It grows with an extensive maze of underground stems that send up slender woody shoots with evergreen oaklike leaves. The leaves are stiff, simple, alternate, elliptic, and about 2-4 in (5-10 cm) long and 1 in (2.5 cm) wide. The leaves rise only about a foot (30 cm) or so above ground, but a single clonal plant can easily spread its subterranean stems and branches over more than 100 square feet (30 m²). The flowers don't look anything like oak catkins. They are small, yellowish, and clustered in 4 in (10 cm) triangular shaped terminal cymes that stand a little above the leaves. The fruits are green at first, turning dirty white when ripe, and about an inch (2-3 cm) long. Ripe fruits are edible and soft, and taste to me like the old fashioned pink bubblegum that used to come with baseball cards.
Location Licania michauxii grows wild in dry pinelands, sandy roadsides, and coastal dunes on the southeastern coastal plain from South Carolina to Florida and west to Louisiana. Often found growing with turkey oak (Quercus laevis) and longleaf pine (Pinus palustris), a stand of gopher apple looks like a patch of oak seedlings until you see the flowers or the fruits.
Gopher apple is a tough one: It is tolerant of drought, wind, salt spray, poor sandy soils, frost, and intense full sun. Light: Gopher apple always seems to be growing in full to nearly full sun. Moisture: Gopher apple grows naturally in dry sandy soils and is quite tolerant of drought conditions. Hardiness: USDA Zones 8-11. Propagation: Propagation of gopher apple apparently is difficult. It might be possible to root stem tip cuttings taken during the spring growth spurt, or semiripe woody cuttings in summer. The fruits each contain a single large seed. Try planting the whole fruit as soon as it ripens. Once dried out, the seeds are difficult to get to germinate. (Perhaps they would germinate after a pass through the digestive tract of a gopher tortoise.) Transplanting or relocating gopher apple plants is virtually impossible.
Gopher apple can be used as a ground cover on poor, loose, sandy soils. It could be a valuable soil stabilizer along roadsides and in coastal areas. Gopher apple is an important ground cover in coastal areas, greatly reducing soil erosion. The attractive flowers last quite a long time in spring and summer, and the fruits are relished by wildlife, including the threatened gopher tortoise, which, unfortunately, appears to be headed to extinction.
Gopher apple is a member of the coco plum family, Chrysobalanaceae, a rather obscure group of tropical trees and shrubs that includes species grown for edible fruits, and for oils used in soap and candle making.