The black mangrove (Avicennia nitida), also called blackwood, and black tree, belongs to the verbena family, most of the species of which in the North are herbaceous plants. It grows on the seashore of southern Florida, the Keys, and eastern Texas, and also in tropical America. In Florida it is not found to much extent north of Ormond on the east coast. It usually grows back of the red mangrove, and in localities where both grow together the red mangrove fringes the shore and makes new land, while the black mangrove is a soil-former. Both are valuable in catching drift and lodging humus and gradually transforming the shallows into reefs and islands, and finally into solid land. But the black mangrove does not actually grow in the water. (Fig. 72.)
The black mangrove, when it grows to the size of a tree, resembles a scraggly old oak with a rough brown bark. It may be 25 to 50 feet tall, with a trunk diameter of four feet, or on the Keys it may attain even greater size. Northward it is seldom more than a shrub. The leaves are leathery, oblong, with very short stems, and when they unfold are somewhat hairy, but later become bright green and shining above, paler or nearly white beneath. The flowers are small, inconspicuous, in terminal clusters, appearing at all seasons of the year. The wood is dark brown and very durable in contact with the soil. When used as fuel it burns with intense heat. (Fig. 73.)
As a source of honey the black mangrove has attracted more attention than any other tree in Florida. Up to the year of the “big freeze,” in 1894, phenomenal yields were reported. As much as 400 pounds of honey from one hive in a single season has been recorded. In those earlier days migratory beekeeping was in practice, and many colonies of bees were moved to the vicinity of Hawks Park from points up and down the coast and from inland localities 50 miles distant. It was hardly possible then to overstock a mangrove section in a favorable season. But the severe winter of 1894 froze and killed the mangrove to the ground. It did not recover from this cheek for 18 years, and not until 1909 did it again yield nectar, and then only in small quantities. Since that year the bushes have gradually grown in size and the yields have increased also, but as yet they can not even be compared with those preceding 1894.
On the numerous small islands of Indian River and along the east shore of Florida southward from Ormond, there are thousands of acres of black mangrove from six to fifteen feet tall. There are a few beekeepers located in the mangrove swamps of southwestern Florida, but not so many as on the east coast, as at Ariel and near New Smyrna. At Cocoanut Grove, Dade County, a mixture of mangrove and cocoanut honey is secured, which is much lighter than the mangrove honey alone, owing to the cocoanut honey. There are also a few colonies of bees in the vicinity of Everglade, which is about 70 miles south of Fort Myers. This is a promising section, but it is wholly undeveloped and the country is as wild as it was 40 years ago. It is the home of the Seminole Indians, and few white people live there.
At Punta Gorda, on the west coast, black mangrove begins to bloom from May 1 to 15, according to the season, and remains in bloom until July 15 or a little later. When atmospheric conditions are favorable the nectar can be seen in large drops shining in the little cups, and a bee can obtain a load from a single blossom. According to Frank Stirling, of the State Plant Board of Florida, the honey is dark-colored and is used very largely in the manufacture of sweet cakes. On the east coast it is usually blended with the honey from cabbage palmetto, which blooms at the same time, and is in consequence lighter colored. At Punta Gorda, says Ward Lambkin, when there is a heavy flow the honey is light colored but thin and not very sweet, with a salty or brackish taste, as the trees grow on the sand flats, which are often flooded with salt water by the tide. A sample of pure extracted mangrove honey from Punta Gorda has granulated with a fine grain, is yellowish brown in color, not very sweet, and has a poor flavor with an after-taste which is slightly salty.
The secretion of nectar is greatly influenced by the weather. In 1911 near New Smyrna it yielded well early in the season, and the bees left their hives for the