An important skill for the Florida gardener is to be able to identify and control invasive, exotic plant species. These plants invade and disrupt Florida’s unique natural ecosystems, often spreading from surrounding urban and suburban landscapes. Being proactive in reducing their spread helps protect the integrity of Florida’s natural areas. Cooler days, fewer bugs, dormant vegetation (including poison ivy!), and striking plant characteristics make this time of year perfect for identifying and controlling invasive, exotic plants in urban/suburban woodlands. For additional motivation, February 26 through March 2 has been proclaimed National Invasive Species Awareness Week.
In north Florida, two easily recognizable invasive, exotic plants are coral Ardisia (Ardisia crenata) and heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica). Both of these plants were introduced decades ago as ornamental plants due to their showy foliage and fruit and ease of cultivation. I picture an adventuring botanist or gardener returning from some exotic locale and sharing what a beautiful and easy growing plant they had found. These characteristics make them easy to notice.
In small areas, manual control methods can be used to successfully rid an area of these common pest plants. Simply pick off the berries and place them in a small container – a 5-gallon bucket works great. Pull up the mature plant being sure to remove the roots. The seeds should be double-bagged and placed in the garbage for disposal in a landfill. The plants can be tossed to the side and allowed to dry out and breakdown. For larger plants, a shovel or root jack can be used to help ensure that the roots are removed from the soil. Follow up is often necessary for total control.
Chemical control methods are more efficient and practical for large areas. County Extension offices can help you select the right herbicide control program for your individual site and particular invasive, exotic species present.
During February and leading up to National Invasive Species Awareness Week, look for opportunities in your community to help rid natural areas of these pesky plants. For more information on invasive, exotic species, including photos, videos, and control recommendations, visit the UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants website – plants.ifas.ufl.edu.