Florida state and county departments spend literally millions of dollars each and every year doing their best to stop the spread of non-native invasive plants in parks and natural areas. But some of their work goes for naught when unknowing home gardeners decide to propagate or encourage many of these plant species in local gardens and landscapes.
Being new to South Florida just a few years ago, I did not realize there was such a thing as invading or destructive plants, and I ignorantly encouraged the growth of a few nasty non-natives. Many of these plants grow very quickly thanks to Florida’s ample rainfall and temperate climate. They spread by seed, easily adapt to a wide range of soil conditions, have no natural enemies and rapidly out-compete and displace many of Florida’s native and often endangered plants, animals, and ecosystems.
In addition to state and regional authorities, another organization that stands strongly behind the movement to eradicate exotic species in deference to Florida friendly landscapes is the Florida Native Plant Society. This non-profit group is dedicated to “preserving, conserving and restoring the Real Florida,” and has many local chapters throughout Florida. They are active throughout Florida’s communities and are represented at many community events where they provide workshops and educational presentations. I recommend you get information from this knowledgeable group if you have a true interest in South Florida gardening.
As a Florida hobby gardener you can also help to reverse the strangle hold that invasive plants have on our wildlife habitats by doing your best to recognize and remove these plans, and by replacing them with Florida friendly and Florida native vegetation. Here are some that you should learn to identify, weed and banish from your garden. I’ve linked each plant to a site provided by the University of Florida Center For Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Review the pictures and descriptions, so you can learn to visually identify these noxious weeds:
• Australian Pines (Casuarinas spp.) – Australian pine trees, native to Australia and Asia, were introduced before the 1920s. The biggest problem for Florida happens along the coastal areas, where the native vegetation quickly loses ground to this fast growing tree, which can grow to a very dense and over 100 feet high. The tree’s litter is quite dense and falls into a thick mat beneath the tree. The heavy shade and ground cover impedes the propagation of indigenous plants and wildlife. The tree’s root system competes with the sea turtles ability to lay eggs since it creeps into the coastal sand. In hurricane and other high wind conditions, this shallow-rooted tree topples over easily and creates major post-storm issues, including increased erosion. It is estimated that Australian Pines cover over 300,000 acres in South Florida.
• Brazilian Pepper Tree (Schinus terebinthifolius) – Widely known as a popular ornamental tree in South America, this tree has been bad news for South Florida since it was introduced to the United States in the 1840s. The experts estimate that this aggressive growing tree covers close to a million acres in Florida. What makes the Brazilian Pepper so insidious is its ability to form hidden strands beneath the soil so it will take over a large area wherever planted, form basal shoots or “suckers” if cut down, is resistant to brush fires, especially when growing in dense clumps, and its seeds are quickly spread by birds and ants. This tree is in the Sumac family, so skin contact can cause rashes and irritations, similar to poison ivy. The only benefit to Florida is for beekeepers. The Brazilian Pepper bloom occurs in late summer to fall in Florida, and it is the last substantial nectar flow until springtime.
• Earleaf Acacia (earleaf acacia) – The Earleaf Acacia has become a problem for much of South Florida native habitats, and is prohibited in Martin and Palm Beach Counties. This non-native evergreen tree was brought to Florida from Australia, New Guinea and Indonesia in the early 1930s , before the residential land development boom. This tree flowers very prettily, but grows too quickly and spreads very rapidly thanks to its multitude of curly seed pods, often overwhelming native vegetation and shading rare native plants that depend on the Florida sunshine. In addition, this tree is not hurricane tolerant. Its limbs will break easily in storms, thus creating substantial property damage.
• Kudzu (Pueraria montana)– This Japanese ornamental vine was first introduced at the 1876 Central Exposition in Philadelphia, PA. The US Soil Conservation Service promoted Kudzu to American farmers to help with soil erosion. The purple flower spikes are very attractive, and the blossoms are said to smell like grape Kool-Aid. Kudzu is in the bean family, and produces a flat multi-seeded legume that splits and easily reseeds and spreads. This fast growing, high climbing vine has literally blanketed entire forests, killing everything in the process. Kudzu can grow so dense that light cannot penetrate it, and the underlying vegetation is completely shaded and eventually dies. Originally endorsed by the federal government, this plant is now on listed as an invasive species by the USDA.
• Melaleuca (Melaleuca qinqenervia) – Many people are familiar with the healthful and healing properties of Melaleuca oil (also called Tea Tree Oil). However, this tree has literally threatened the health and wellness of the Florida Everglades, and many other Florida aquatic areas. It is said that large grassy swamp areas are now forests of Melaleuca trees. This plants ability to rapidly invade native habitat can be easily explained – one tree produces up to 20 million seeds per year! Also called Paper Bark Tree, the Melaleuca was imported from Australia, Malaysia and New Guinea in the early 1900s and has swiftly invaded so much of Florida that state and the USDA has named this a prohibited plant species.
Regardless of nectar flow or pollen production, pleasant scent,ornamentality, soil erosion possibilities or potential tree oil health benefits, each and every one of these plants should be plucked out and destroyed and banned from South Florida landscapes. They are all good plants gone bad.