Leafy Intruders Smother Native Species
Burmese pythons, wild hogs, and lionfish aren't the only invasive species pushing out Florida natives.
Alongside these and other unwanted animals, many non-native plants and trees are spreading rapidly, wiping out naturally-occurring vegetation. If not removed, these aggressors will continue displacing native and non-native adaptive greenery.
Invasive plants and trees tend to thrive on land disturbed by humans, though the most offensive ones can take over existing natural ecosystems.
Here are some of the most offensive intruders. A few were brought here innocently, seemingly for valid reasons. All have spread to threaten native plants and trees:
Asparagus fern: Commonly found in Hillsborough County, this evergreen herb often is used as a groundcover and in hanging containers. Thriving beside roads and in forests, asparagus fern has potential to smother understory and prevent growth of canopy species.
Air potato: Labeled both invasive and noxious, this vine can grow up to 8 inches daily. It was introduced to Florida in 1905. Stretching up to 70 feet in length, it can climb to the top of trees and overtake native plants.
Mexican petunia: Introduced to Florida in the 1940s, this plant has attractive purple flowers. Widely used in Florida landscapes, Mexican petunia grows rapidly, thrives in a wide range of conditions, and has potential to be extremely invasive.
Australian pine: This non-native tree was introduced to Florida in late 1800s, often as a windbreak in coastal areas. It is salt-tolerant and provides ample shade, but also chokes out other vegetation and topples easily in high winds.
Melaleuca tree: Efforts to dry out the Everglades, decrease mosquito populations, and create land acceptable for development brought these Australian natives to Florida. A thriving stand of melaleuca trees, also known as punk trees, virtually eliminates all other vegetation.
Brazilian pepper: This exotic plant/tree featuring bright red berries was brought to Florida in the mid-1800s. Sometimes called Florida holly or Christmasberry tree, it was used in landscapes and its berries adorned holiday wreaths. It spreads rapidly, particularly in Central and South Florida, pushing out native vegetation.
When possible, it's important to remove an invasive plant by pulling or digging up its roots. Otherwise, it will keep growing. Check with the County before removing an invasive tree, to find out if a permit is needed.
The best way to deter an infestation of non-native invasive vegetation is to maintain healthy, diverse, natural ecosystems.
Find out more about types of invasive vegetation and how to deal with them.