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Get Rid of Invasive Exotics

by Dan Walton

The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council has defined the following terms:
Exotic – a species introduced to Florida, purposefully or accidentally, from a natural range outside of Florida.
Native – a species whose natural range included Florida at the time of European contact (1500AD).
Invasive exotic – an exotic that not only has naturalized but is expanding on its own in Florida plant communities.

There are two causes of native habitat loss. One is due to development and the other to invasion by aggressive non- native species known as invasive exotics. The second type of loss may not be so obvious to most of us, but it is important. Native plants and animals have evolved together over thousands of years. The loss of native plants reduces the food and shelter on which animals depend.

Invasive exotics are plants that disperse from an area where they were intentionally planted to reseed in native habitat. They leave your yard as seed on the wind, in water, or as undigested material from birds and mammals or even on your pant’s leg or under your shoe. Invasive exotics can grow more quickly than native plants and out compete them for available resources such as sunlight, water, and nutrients. In the worst cases, the native vegetation dies out leaving an exotic monoculture. Instead of the diverse layering of native plant species supporting a variety of organisms, one kind of exotic plant thrives supporting far fewer organisms.

Not all exotics are invasive. Non-invasive exotics come from parts of the world other than Florida, but remain contained in the area in which they are planted. Since not all exotics are invasive, find out which ones are. The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council is on the web at is one good source to find up to date lists that identify invasive plants in your region. Your local agricultural extension office has all sorts of publications on invasive exotics for your county.

You may be surprised to find out what shrubs and groundcovers are on the invasive exotic species plant list. Surinam-cherry, heavenly bamboo, sword fern, Mexican petunia, beach naupaka, schefflera, seaside mahoe are but a few of the readily available, sought after garden center specials. Many of our common groundcovers such as oyster plant, white-flowered wandering Jew, asparagus fern, or wedelia are also on “the list”. The worst of these may be wedelia. It spreads through and over other plants and is hard to get rid of once established. You have to pull it out religiously until you get every bit of root matter or you have to spray it routinely for a long time.

Obviously, large invasive trees like Australian Pine and Melaleuca or Punk Tree are too big to remove yourself. Call in professionals, get quotes, make sure whomever you choose is insured. Carrotwood and Brazilian Pepper can be cut down by the homeowner if they are medium size trees or smaller. Check with your local cooperative agricultural extension office for removal methods. If these trees are your only form of shade, or buffer undesirable views, you can plant native replacements near them. As your replacements mature, you can cut back the exotics.

Conservation begins out your front door. Do your part to preserve the natural habitats in your area.

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