The Seven Bastards We Killed

Hurricane season is upon us and so is that glorious rainy weather that comes along with it. The plants are responding in wonderful fashion and a little light has been shed on an area of planning they we had originally underestimated and that is invasive species control. When we moved in, the growing season had only just begun and the yard was freshly mowed. It wasn’t until the middle of May that we realised the extent of our problem. We found seven (and counting…) invasive species growing in our yard. We decided in the beginning that we wanted to grow all of our plants organically and that we wanted to use the permaculture method instead of herbicides, so we are manually removing all plants and composting the biomass when at all possible.

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Japanese Climbing Fern (Lygodium japonicum).

We put initial emphasis on the Japanese climbing fern because of the extent of infestation and because it aggressively spreads through reproductive spores. This plant likes to use previous growth as a trellis forming a dense mass that can become a dangerous ladder fuel in the event of a fire. We pulled and bagged these plants for disposal and we did not compost any part of this plant to reduce and prevent the spread of spores.  This plant will easily break off at the surface, when removing, leaving the roots to sprout new growth.

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Japanese Climbing Fern sporing leaf (fingers). This is not a flowering plant, it reproduces through spores on modified leaves.
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Air Potato (Dioscorea bulbifera).

Air Potato has a spectacular growth rate and can spread rapidly creating a dense monoculture. When removing this vine, be sure to collect as many of the tubers (potatoes) as possible.  We discarded the tubers and composted the vegetation. This plant has become such a widespread problem that biological control methods were introduced to combat it.  The Air Potato Leaf Beetle ( Lilioceris cheni) is native to Asia  and was released in Florida in 2012 and has since shown promising results.

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The Air Potato can grow up to eight inches a day.
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Caesarweed (Urena lobata).

Caesarweed is a plant I have truly come to loath and anyone that has ever had long hair would certainly agree. It is so successful for its ingenious method of seed dispersal. The seeds function like velcro and are spread far and wide from the mother plant.  I can’t stress enough that these seeds are annoying on a grand scale! We lucked out by pulling many of them before they had a chance to flower and used them as compost. The ones that went to seed, we bagged and disposed of.

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Seed clusters grow at leaf nodes and spread most readily when ripened.
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Brazilian Pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius).

The Brazilian Pepper is one of the worst invasive plants in our state’s history and it’s one of our own doing. The U.S.  began importing Brazilian pepper in the mid 1800’s and the USDA even promoted  its spread through intentional planting. It is an easy plant to identify when flowering and fruiting. The fruits can be seen on it nearly year round and are relished by birds which further spread their seeds.The Brazilian peppers in our yard had not begun flowering so we were successful in reducing their invasion. We pulled and composted these plants.

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When no flowers or fruit are present, check for the winged petiole to assist in identification. It is also useful to smell the crushed leaves, which have a turpentine smell, as a means for identification.
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Tropical Soda Apple (Solanum viarum) is easily distinguished, even when they are not flowering or fruiting, by their leaf shape and the presence of thorns on leaf surfaces and petioles.

Tropical Soda Apple has invaded our yard by way of our neighbors cattle pasture, which is where this plant is most likely to impact. Cattle eat the fruit, disperse the seeds and reduce the surrounding vegetation practically cultivating a monoculture. We pulled the ones in our yard before they had a chance to flower, making them much easier to remove. If you have these in your yard presently, we recommend disposing of the fruits and composting the vegetation. Wear gloves when hand pulling these to avoid their many unforgiving thorns.

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Two-leaf Nightshade (Solanum diphyllum) Level two invasive and highly likely poisonous according to UF/IFAS.

The Two-leaf Nightshade was grown in the 1960’s as an ornamental plant and was quickly dispersed by birds eating the bright orange fruits. Now it is a category two invasive and spans across most of central Florida. We only had the one in our yard, so we were able to get rid of it before it became a nuisance. We disposed of the entire shrub due to its potential toxicity.

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Elephant Ear Plant (Xanthosoma Sagittifolium) Although these can be sold at plant nurseries they are a level two on the invasive plant list of central Florida and can multiply rapidly quickly taking over a yard.

If you were anything like me as a kid, you grew up playing in Elephant ears, and like, me you probably had no idea that they were an invasive, non-native plant. Elephant ears have many different varieties. The ones in our yard have been known to grow up to nine feet tall and in some countries are even consumed. We removed most of ours and have decided to leave a small patch to conceal our outdoor air-conditioning unit. The ones that were present in our yard were most likely planted as an ornamental and escaped cultivation and have become the backyard invasion that you see in the above photograph.

I’m not going to sugar coat it folks, invasive species control can be a long, arduous process that can span years. If an invasive species has been reproducing on a property for multiple growing seasons, there are probably many seeds in the seed bank, just waiting for their chance to grow. There are over 2,000 exotic plant species in Florida but only about 11% of them become invasive.  The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council has a list of invasive plant species that can be found at http://www.fleppc.org/ to further assist you in identifying and treating invasive species.

Benny Glass (photography by Jessie Lane)

 

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