Beach Vitex

Beach Vitex

Beach vitex in bloom is an attractive plant, which can make it more difficult to convince property owners of its harmful potential. Photo credit: Rick O’Connor, Florida Sea Grant

One of the biggest problems with beach vitex (Vitex rotundifolia) is its beauty. It has rounded, deep green leaves (with a silvery gray cast) and a beautiful little lavender-purple bloom. Like most weedy invasive plants, the plant was imported and sold as an ornamental groundcover for many years. Homeowners and landscapers planted it in coastal areas where it is well adapted to the salt and heat, and no one realized it would be so problematic. Ever since, beach vitex took root and has continued growing, unchecked, throughout the coastal south.

In this photo, beach vitex has overrun all native dune vegetation to form a monoculture. Photo credit: Randy Westbrook, Invasive Plant Control, Inc.

North and South Carolina started having big issues first, when beach vitex was planted deliberately to stabilize sand dunes after hurricanes. Soon after, a coastal restoration specialist with the Army Corps of Engineers realized the mistake. The vines run along the ground in such thick mats that native vegetation like sea oats can be choked out. The wide-spreading fibrous roots and tall profile of sea oats hold sand in place better than the beach vitex’s low growth and taproot, which have long term consequences for maintaining dune stability. The thick tangle of vitex growth is yet another obstacle for hatchling sea turtles in a long list of man-made problems that has made nesting and reproduction difficult.

The invasive vine beach vitex has taken over a stretch of sand on Pensacola Beach. Photo credit: Rick O’Connor, Florida Sea Grant

Eradication of the noxious weed has proved difficult. When a plant gets the nickname, “beach kudzu,” you know something went seriously wrong. Beach vitex produces millions of seeds in late summer and early fall, which are dispersed by wind, birds, and float over water. Unless removed before going to seed, even a small patch of the vine can expand rapidly. While not as prevalent in Florida, over 80 sites have been identified in the western panhandle with beach vitex. Due to these problematic issues, the plant was recently added to the Florida Noxious Weed and Invasive Species List, making it illegal to sell, grow, move, or release the plant.

To learn more about how to identify, report, and remove beach vitex, visit or contact Rick O’Connor at

Remove Invasive Species, Win Prizes

Remove Invasive Species, Win Prizes

February 22-26, 2021 is National Invasive Species Awareness Week.

February 22 to 26, 2021 is National Invasive Species Awareness Week (NISAW). This is a time where many organizations involved with land management and conservation will be sharing information to educate the public about the issue of invasive plant and animal species. Living in Florida, we should all be well aware of the concerns with invasive species as we have experience with many, including the fire ant, kudzu, iguanas, climbing fern, and pythons. Oh my! Due to Florida’s climate and our many active ports, we are prime for introductions of many non-native species. These invasive species alter our unique ecosystems and can cause harm to us humans by blocking waterways (aquatic plants like Hydrilla), affecting our health (allergenic plants like Chinese privet) and the health of our pets and livestock (dogs allergic to tropical dayflower and cattle killed by Nandina). Since many of these pests were brought here for the ornamental landscape trade, gardeners have a responsibility to be aware of these invasive species and do what they can to control them.

A few of the most common invasive species you may find in your north Florida landscape. Clockwise from top left – Japanese climbing fern, coral ardisia, and heavenly bamboo. Image Credit:

There are several great resources from UF/IFAS to help with identification and control of invasive species, from your local county extension agents to a slew of online publications and websites. This year, the Florida Invasive Species Partnership (FISP), of which UF/IFAS is a partner, is coordinating a pandemic-safe, stay-at-home Weed Wrangle to encourage Floridians to work on controlling invasive species. If you share your efforts, you’re eligible for prizes, including weed pullers and gift certificates for native plants! For more information, check out the website for the Florida Weed Wrangle Week event –

For more help identifying and controlling invasive species, contact your local county extension office or visit this UF/IFAS website that is a clearinghouse of invasive species information –

Avoid Firewood Pests

Avoid Firewood Pests

Fire in fireplace

Be careful when bringing firewood indoors. Photo credit: Larry Williams

Your firewood pile could be “bugged.” Many insects like to overwinter in wood. A wood pile is an ideal place for some insects to survive the winter. They don’t know that you intend to bring their winter home indoors during cold weather.

During colder weather, you can unknowingly bring in pests such as spiders, beetles and roaches when you bring in firewood. It’s best to bring in firewood only when you are ready to use it. Otherwise, those pests could become active and start crawling around inside your house. Many insects are potential problems indoors and there are usually control options once insects move into your home. However, preventing the insects from getting inside is the best approach.

If you store wood indoors for short periods of time, it is a good idea to clean the storage area after you have used the wood. Using a first-in, first-out guideline as much as possible will reduce chances of insect problems.

It’s best to keep your wood pile off the ground and away from the house. This will make it less inviting to insects and help the wood dry. It’s not difficult to keep the wood off the ground. The wood can be stacked on a base of wooden pallets, bricks or blocks, which will allow air movement under the wood. The wood can also be covered with a waterproof tarp or stored in a shed. Regardless of how it is stored, avoid spraying firewood with insecticides. When burned, insecticide treated wood may give off harmful fumes.

Some critters that live in firewood can be harmful to humans. To avoid a painful sting or bite from insects, spiders or scorpions (no Florida scorpion is considered poisonous, but they can inflict a painful sting), it is a good practice to wear gloves when picking up logs from a wood pile.

Firewood can be a good source of heat during our cold weather. If you’re careful with how you handle your firewood, hopefully it will warm you, not “bug” you.

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! 2021

Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! 2021

We are back with new topics and guest speakers for 2021! All sessions are Thursdays at noon CDT or 1:00 p.m. EDT.

There are two ways to join the Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! webinars:

1. Facebook Live – Follow us on Facebook and follow individual webinar Events.
2. Zoom Webinar – Pre-registration is required for Zoom. Users must have an authenticated account (free at Zoom Link). Be sure you have security settings up to date to prevent connection delays. Links to Zoom registration will be added to the topic one week before the webinar and a closed captioned recorded link to YouTube will be available approximately one week after the program. (Underlined words have active links!)





12-1 pm CDT


Reference links

Dr. Chris Marble, Beth Bolles, Mark Tancig, Larry Williams


Spring Vegetables
Reference links

Dr. Josh Freeman, Matt Lollar, Sheila Dunning, Evan Anderson


Reference links

Dr. Bryan Unruh, Dr. Pat Williams, Mark Tancig, Larry Williams



Beth Bolles, Julie McConnell, Mary Salinas, Trevor Hylton


Ornamental & Turf Diseases

Dr. Phil Harmon, Stephen Greer, Larry Williams, Matt Orwat


Beneficial Insects: Predators!

Dr. Adam Dale, Beth Bolles, Julie McConnell, Danielle Sprague


Open landscape topics Q&A

Beth Bolles, Mark Tancig, Matt Lollar, Evan Anderson


Beginning Beekeeping

Chris Oster, Ray Bodrey, Evan Anderson, Matt Orwat


Invasive Species

Dr. Stephen Enloe, Dr. Pat Williams, Dr. Gary Knox, Sheila Dunning, Ray Bodrey



Marc Frank, Dr. Pat Williams, Stephen Greer, Matt Orwat


Selecting and Maintaining Trees

Larry Figart, Mark Tancig, Larry Williams, Matt Orwat, Dr. Ryan Klein

Missed a session and want to catch up?
All webinars are archived with closed captioning on our YouTube Gardening in the Panhandle LIVE! Playlist.



Biological Control of Air Potato by a Beneficial Beetle

Biological Control of Air Potato by a Beneficial Beetle

Article by Jessica Griesheimer & Dr. Xavier Martini, UF/IFAS North Florida Research and Education Center, Quincy

Dioscorea bulbifera, commonly known as the air potato is an invasive species plaguing the southeastern United States. The air potato is a vine plant that grows upward by clinging to other native plants and trees. It propagates with underground tubers and aerial bulbils which fall to the ground and grow a new plant. The aerial bulbils can be spread by moving the plant, causing the bulbils to drop to the ground and tubers can be spread by moving soil where an air potato plant grew prior. The air potato is commonly confused with and mistaken as being Dioscorea alata, the winged yam which is also highly invasive. The plants look very similar at first glance but have subtle differences. Both plants exhibit a “heart”-shaped leaf connected to vines. The vines of the winged yam have easily felt ridges, while the air potato vines are smooth. They also differ in their aerial bulbil shapes, the winged yam has a long, cylinder-shaped bulbil while the air potato aerial bulbil has a rounded, “potato” shape (Fig. 1).

In its native range of Asia and Africa, the air potato has a local biocontrol agent, Lilioceris cheni commonly known as the Chinese air potato beetle (Fig. 2). As an adult, this beetle feeds on older leaves and deposits eggs on younger leaves for the larvae to later feed on. Once the larvae have grown and fed, they drop the ground where they pupate to later emerge as adults, continuing the cycle. The Chinese air potato beetle will not feed on the winged yam, as it is not its host plant.Current methods of air potato plant, bulbil, and tuber removal can be expensive and hard to maintain. The plant is typically sprayed with herbicide or is pulled from the ground, the aerial bulbils are picked from the plant before they drop, and the underground tubers are dug up. The herbicides can disrupt native vegetation, allowing for the air potato to spread further should it survive. If the underground tuber or aerial bulbils are not completely removed, the plant will grow back.

The Chinese air potato beetle is currently being evaluated as a potential integrated pest management (IPM) organism to help mitigate the invasive air potato. The beetle feeds and reproduces solely on the air potato plant, making it a great IPM organism choice. During 2019, we studied the Chinese air potato beetle and its ability to find the air potato plant. It was found the beetles may be using olfactory cues to find the host plant. Further research is conducted at the NFREC to increase natural aggregation of the beetles on air potato to improve biological control of the weed.

Chinese Air Potato Leaf Beetle.

If you have the air potato plant, or suspect you have the air potato plant, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Agents for help!


Vacation Hitchhikers

Vacation Hitchhikers

Photo from USDA APHIS

Remember last year’s vacation trip?  You picked the perfect location, checked into the hotel and made sure to check every mattress corner for bedbugs.  Bugs can hide in the strangest places.  Now with COVID-19 those people insisting on still taking a vacation are flocking to Northwest Florida.  While some are still utilizing hotels, the majority are pulling into the RV park or campground. They are bringing anything and everything anyone could possibly need for the week, from firewood to camp chairs.  That way no one will have to go to the store.  Somewhere on the vehicle or within all the stuff there may be some hitchhikers, insect stowaways. The problem is that these bugs may be staying even after the human beings head back north.  Florida is notorious for invasive species.  With 22 international airports and 15 international ports in the state, hundreds of foreign insects are intercepted each month.  But, not all the problem creepy crawlers are coming from the south.  Many have been introduced to northern states and work their way here.

One to keep an eye open for is spotted lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula).  The Asian native was first detected in Pennsylvania in 2014.  Since then it has spread to the east and south.  While the insect can walk, jump, or fly short distances, the quickest way for the spotted lanternfly to relocate is to lay eggs on natural and man-made surfaces.  Some of those egg masses may fall off and get left at the park. Next spring after the eggs hatch the nymphs will begin feeding on the sap of numerous plants, often changing species as they mature.  Host plants include grape, maple, poplar, willow and many fruit tree species.

Nymphs in the early stages of development appear black with white spots and turn to bright red before becoming adults.  At maturity spotted lanternflies are about 1 ½ inches wide with large colorful, spotted wings.

Photo from USDA APHIS

At rest their forewings are folded up giving the lanternfly a dull light brown appearance.  But when it takes flight its beauty is revealed. The bright red hind wings and the yellow abdomen are very eye-catching.  Remember, in nature bright colors are often a warning.  Though spotted lanternflies are attractive, they pose a valid threat to native and food-producing plants. The adults feed by sucking sap from branches and leaves.  What goes in must come out.  Sugar in, sugar out. Spotted lanternflies excrete a sticky, sugar-rich fluid referred to as honeydew.  Black sooty mold often develops on honeydew covered surfaces.

Spotted lanternflies are most active at night, steadily migrating up and down the trunk of trees.  During the day they tend to gather together at the base of the plants under a canopy of leaves.  So, you may need your lantern (or head lamp) to locate them.  If you find an insect that you suspect is a spotted lanternfly, please contact your local Extension office of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Plant Industries.