Tough bumelia is a common, thorny, deciduous or evergreen shrub or small tree native to North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. It occurs nearly throughout Florida but is wholly absent from the Panhandle and the western portion of northern Florida. It is found in nature in dry, well-drained soils in full sun to light shade in sandhills, sand scrub, and coastal hammocks. The lower surface of the leaves are completely covered with a dense layer of silky hairs that varies from pale brown to a rich mahogany brown. This dense coat of hairs no doubt slows down the loss of water through transpiration and is an adaptation to the plant's xeric habitat.
Tough bumelia, like other Sideroxylon species, is a wildlife powerhouse since the dense, thorny branches provide protection for small birds and animals, the tiny white flowers attract an extremely wide variety of insect pollinators, and the dark, 1-seeded, olive-sized fruits have a gummy, but sweetish, pulp that is eaten by larger birds and various mammals.
In older works, tough bumelia is often listed as Bumelia tenax. Also, it is often described as being "spiny" but that is incorrect. Spines, in the strict sense, refer to modified leaves or their parts. Bumelia tenax is more correctly referred to as "thorny" since its sharp-pointed armature is derived from modified branches, not modified leaves.
Image and text © 2013 Rufino Osorio