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A guide to Florida's invasive Plants

Updated on March 6, 2013
Coral Ardisia Displaying small red berries.
Coral Ardisia Displaying small red berries.

Coral Ardisia (ardisia crenulata)

Introduced in the early 1900s mainly for ornamental purposes, the invasive shrub began to spread.Favoring Moist wooded areas and hardwood hammocks, this species quickly overtakes the forest floor, shading out undergrowth and potentially prohibiting the growth of new plant life. Coral ardisia can be easily identified by its dark green, waxy leaves and its many clumps of small red berries.

This photo shows the large heart shaped leaves and the potato like tubers of the Air Potato
This photo shows the large heart shaped leaves and the potato like tubers of the Air Potato

Air Potato (Dioscorea Bulbifera)

Originating from Polynesia, the Air Potato made its way to the Americas during the slave trade. Introduced to Florida in 1905 as a USDA sample, horticulturists described it, saying they have "never seen a more aggressive and dangerous vine in Florida" and "forming impenetrable masses". It has become naturalized in pinelands and hammocks, climbing high into tree tops where it forms dense canopies greatly reducing the ability of sunlight to reach the forest floor. The Air Potato's most recognizable feature being the bulbous tubers (from which it gets its name) that form along its twisting vine. These tubers (found to be toxic) greatly increase it spreading abilities as they fall and are carried off by animals, or float down a river where they eventually root and begin the growth of a new plant.

Water Hyacinth
Water Hyacinth

Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia Crassipes)

Introduced to the U.S in 1884 in New Orleans and reaching Florida in the mid 1890's, this aquatic herb spread over 126,000 acres by 1950. The water hyacinth grows rapidly, it can easily double its population within a two week period. The dense mats formed by this species are known for clogging up drainage pipes, dams, and overtaking waterways. It degrades water quality and affects native plants and animals. Identified by its floating bulbous rosettes and feathery black to dark purple roots. When flowering it produces lavender blue flowers with a yellow blotch.

Cogon Grass (Imperata Cylindrica)

Cogon Grass, considered one of the top 10 worst weeds in the world, was introduced to the U.S as packing material used in a shipment from Japan. It has invaded over 20 counties in Florida, including areas which also contain federally endangered or threatened plant species. A perennial species that grows in compact tufts, its identified by its Fluorescent green sheaths and sharp pointed tips. the most recognizable feature being a white midvein that runs vertically off-center of the sheath. When flowering, it produces white, silky, plume-like stalkes up to 8 inches in length.

Japanese Climbing Fern(Lygodium Japonicum) and Old World Climbing Fern(Lygodium Microphyllum)

Reported in several counties of Florida, this Japanese fern also known as lygodium had spread over 1200 acres of Jonathan Dickinson State Park and Loxahatchee River by 1993, and by 1995 had already covered 17000 acres of the Loxohatchee National Wildlife Refuge. It inhabits Cypress swamps where it creeps over trees and other plants creating a "blanket" of vine, easily smothering out vegetation. It poses a huge risk with wildfires and prescribed burns because it creates a "bridge" where fire can climb into tree canopies and even spread over swamps where water would otherwise dam the fire. It poses a significant risk to native bromeliads as it wraps itself around tree trunks where they grow. Lygodium can be identified because of its natural habits of engulfing large areas of forest. The vines of this species can stretch over 90 feet long. The leaves, which grow closely knit along the vine are oblong in shape with tiny "fingers" on the leaf tips. the sister species Lygodium mycrophyllum is closely related, almost identical with minor differences in leaf appearance.


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