May 18, 2018, Air Potato Challenge: Beetles Available for the Public

Air potato leaf beetle attacking the invasive air potato plant.

Air potatoes got you down? Have no fear, for the Air Potato Challenge is coming to Leon County!

Register now to attend the Air Potato Challenge event on May 18, 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the FAMU Center for Viticulture and Small Fruit Research (6361 Mahan Drive, Tallahassee, FL) and receive a supply of air potato beetles to use on your property.

After years of testing, air potato beetles became available as a biological control in 2012 to help combat the invasive herbaceous perennial air potato vine (Dioscorea bulbifera). Air potatoes arrived in south Florida from China in the early 1900s and have steadily crept north until they are now invading the Panhandle Region. Fortunately, air potato beetles have dietary requirements that are very specific, relying strictly upon air potatoes to complete their life cycles.

This is why a team of researchers and Extension agents have come together to help spread air potato beetles as a biological control strategy. Many agencies and counties are involved in this effort, including UF/IFAS Extension St. Lucie County, UF/IFAS Indian River Research and Education Center, the Florida Department of Agriculture Division of Plant Industry, the USDA, Florida Fish and Wildlife, UF/IFAS Extension Leon County, and Florida A&M University.

From 9 a.m. to noon on May 18, Florida residents and public land managers are invited to come out to the FAMU Center for Viticulture and Small Fruit Research to get more information about the invasive air potato and its biological controller, the air potato beetle, and receive a supply of beetles to use on their properties. Please pre-register on the Eventbrite page  (

You can find more information about air potatoes and air potato beetles on the UF/IFAS Solutions for Your Life Air Potato Biological Control page (

What: Air Potato Challenge
Where: FAMU Center for Viticulture and Small Fruit Research, 6361 Mahan Drive, Tallahassee, FL
May 18, 2018, 9 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Cost: Free of charge, but please pre-register

Good Time to Control Common Pest Plants

Good Time to Control Common Pest Plants

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.


National Invasive Species Awareness Week is February 26 to March 2 this year.


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.


Coral Ardisia (left) and heavenly bamboo (right) are easy to recognize this time of year. Credit: UF/IFAS; Gil Nelson.


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 –


You can help rid local natural areas of invasive, exotic plants. Credit: Mark Tancig

Know How to Choose Florida-Friendly Plants

One of the main Florida-Friendly Landscaping principles is to plant the right plant in the right place. In Florida, not only does this apply to the zone you’re in, soils you have, and light conditions in your garden, but also ensuring that invasive, exotic plant species are not used. While most of us have heard about invasive, exotic plants – those that invade and disrupt our unique natural habitats – some may not know where or how to find out which plants are, in fact, invasive and exotic. Some of the more famous invasive, exotic plant species, such as kudzu and hydrilla, are familiar to us and we may have an idea of a plant in our garden that is “aggressive”, but how do we know for sure? Since only a handful of the worst invasive, exotic plants are legally prohibited from being sold, how do we know if a plant we are considering purchasing at our local nursery or another plant already in our gardens is an invasive, exotic? A quick internet search for Florida invasive plants gets you various sources of information. How do you choose which to use?

The unique habitats of Florida need our help. Prevent the spread of invasive, exotic species by planting Florida-Friendly plants. Source: Mark Tancig/UF/IFAS.

Fortunately, the researchers at UF/IFAS want you to be able to find the best information in one spot – the UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-Native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas. This site systematically reviews individual plant species and provides a recommendation as to whether it should be used in North, Central, or South Florida landscapes. Many landscape plants have been reviewed – over 800 – and more are added to the site as reviews are completed. The UF/IFAS Assessment also reviews cultivars of known invasive, exotic plants to ensure that they are sterile and will not revert back to their wild type or hybridize with known invasives, or even closely related native species.

The UF/IFAS Assessment is a simple, convenient source for deciding if a plant should be used in your Florida landscape.

To use the site, simply visit the main web address – – and begin typing in your plant name in the search bar. You can begin spelling the scientific or common name and it will start showing possible results as you type. Once you select the plant you’re interested in, it will take you to a new page with photos of the plant, some general information, additional links, and, most importantly, the assessment conclusion for each zone. The conclusion will be one of the following:

  1. Not considered a problem species at this time,
  2. Caution, or
  3. Invasive

Of course, if it’s not a problem, then feel free to use and share that particular plant. If it is a caution plant, then it may be used, but you will want to be extra careful in where you plant it. Those may be better suited as potted plants or planted in areas that are confined, to limit its potential spread. If it’s invasive, don’t plant it.

Caution plants are reassessed every two years while those that are not considered a problem species or are considered invasive are reassessed every ten years.

Another way to use the UF/IFAS Assessment is to filter all reviewed plants by various criteria you’re interested in. If you select assessments on the main page, it will lead you to a list of all reviewed plants. A filter button allows you to choose geographic zone, conclusion type, and growth habit, among some other criteria. This will create a list that can then be exported to a Microsoft Excel table.

As you can see, UF/IFAS is trying to make it easy for you to determine which plants can be used in the landscape without potentially spreading and causing disruption to our unique natural areas.

If you have any questions about individual species that have or have not been assessed, contact your local County Extension Office.

Skunkvine – A Stinky Invasive Plant

Skunkvine – A Stinky Invasive Plant

Skunkvine illustration. UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants.

Skunkvine illustration. UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants.

North Florida gardeners have many non-native, invasive plants to deal with, but none quite as stinky as skunkvine (Paederia foetida). As the name implies, skunkvine has a noticeable smell, especially when the leaves are crushed, and it is an aggressive-growing vine, capable of smothering desirable landscape plants. Gardeners should learn to recognize and control this plant before it gets a foothold in the garden.

Skunkvine is native to eastern and southern Asia and a member of the coffee family (Rubiaceae). It was introduced to Florida prior to 1897 as a potential fiber crop, but quickly spread and is now considered a Category I invasive plant by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (FLEPPC) and as a noxious weed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences (FDACS).

Skunkvine can be identified by the following characteristics:

  • Aggressive twining vine
  • Leaves are opposite each other
  • There is a thin flap of tissue on the stem between the leaves
  • Leaves have a strong skunk-like odor when crushed
  • Clusters of small, tubular, lilac-colored flowers appear in late summer to fall
  • Fruits are shiny brown and can persist through winter


Skunkvine flowering. Photo by Ben Ferrin (UF/IFAS).

Skunkvine flowering. Photo by Ken Ferrin, UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Used with permission.


Once you have identified skunkvine in your garden, the next step is to work to remove it. For small patches, pulling by hand can be effective but will require monitoring to ensure it doesn’t resprout. When hand pulling, you want to be sure to get as much of the root as possible. For larger areas, chemical control using herbicide products that contain triclopyr, imazapic, or aminopyralid are most effective. Carefully reading the product label will help determine which product to purchase.

Since skunkvine can be easily spread by seed and fragments of stem, care must be taken when disposing of it. The best solution is to place plant debris into a trash bag and dispose of it with your regular household garbage.

By knowing how to identify and manage skunkvine, north Florida gardeners can keep it from stinking up their own gardens, their neighbor’s gardens, and surrounding natural areas that support our native wildlife.



Langeland, K. A., Stocker, R. K., and Brazis, D. M. 2013. Natural Area Weeds: Skunkvine (Paederia foetida). Agronomy Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. EDIS document SS-AGR-80.

Coral Ardisia, A Pretty Problem

Coral Ardisia, A Pretty Problem

Coral ardisia is also known as coral berry, spice berry, and scratchthroat. It was introduced into Florida in the early 1900’s for ornamental purposes.

Coral ardisia. Photo credit: Les Harrison.

Coral ardisia. Photo credit: Les Harrison.

In the ensuing years it has since escaped cultivation and become established in hardwood hammocks and other moist woods of natural areas and grazing lands. Specimens have been collected from 19 western and south-central Florida counties as of 2004.

This evergreen sub-shrub reaches a height of 1.5 to six feet and tends to grow in multi-stemmed clumps. Leaves are alternate, 8 inches long, dark green above, waxy, without hairs, and have scalloped margins and calluses in the margin notches.

Flowers are typically pink to white in stalked axillary clusters, usually drooping below the foliage. The fruit is a bright red, globose, single-seeded berry, measuring approximately 0.25 inches in diameter. White-berried populations are also known to exist.

Coral ardisia is considered invasive. Control of coral ardisia may be accomplished by two methods. A low-volume foliar application of Garlon 4 or Remedy provides suppression of this plant. Complete foliar coverage is essential to success and retreatment will be necessary for complete control.

Basal bark applications with Garlon 4 or Remedy in an oil carrier can also be utilized for suppressing this invasive weed. Do not apply more than 8 quarts of Remedy or Garlon 4 per acre and treat no more than ten percent of the total grazed area if applying greater than two quarts per acre.

For more information:

Identification and Control of Coral Ardisia (Ardisia crenata): A Potentially Poisonous Plant