November 8, 2010

Alien Plant Invasion!

Theresa Badurek, Urban Horticulture Agent, Pinellas County Extension

It’s October and the Florida Holly is in full bloom. Wait a minute, Florida Holly? Even though that sounds like a beautiful plant, don’t be fooled! What some people call the “Florida Holly” is really an insidious invasive exotic. The real name of this plant is Brazilian pepper, Schinus terebinthifolius. You probably see this plant in so many places that you don’t even notice it anymore. Or maybe you’ve always wondered what that lovely big shrub with all the pretty red berries on it was. Here it is:

This plant was introduced to Florida in the mid 1800s as an ornamental plant. It has since taken over and continues to spread and destroy natural habitats all over Florida. If that wasn’t enough to prove to you what a nasty plant this is, it’s also a member of the same plant family as poison ivy. Yes, that means that contact with the plant may cause a rash or irritation. Some people experience respiratory irritation while it’s in bloom, from late summer through November. Many are in full bloom right now.

Now that you know this alien invasion is taking place, you can help stop it! If you have a Brazilian pepper- remove it! (Note: this is easier said than done…) Talk to a neighbor and let them know if they have an invasive plant that should be removed. While we’re on the subject, there are many other invasive exotics to look out for. Helping control the spread of the plants is one of the many ways you can help protect Florida’s unique ecosystems.

Brazilian pepper links that include control methods:

Here are some other beautifully deceptive non-native invasive exotics you should know:

Camphor tree, Cinnamomum camphora

Camphor tree can grow into a very large tree- up to 65’ tall. It has lovely glossy green leaves that smell like camphor when crushed. Mature trees produce many, many, many round black seeds. This tree also grows into a great dense canopy that provides plenty of shade- so much shade that it shades the native species right out. It invades many ecosystems, but is often found in dry disturbed sites.

Carrotwood tree, Cupaniopsis anacardioides 

This is a small tree that grows up to about 30-35’ tall. It flowers in late winter/early spring with clusters of white to yellow-green flowers. It produces fruit that are capsules that split open to reveal its orange seeds. This is a lovely little tree that primarily invades beautiful coastal habitats. Here it shades out the native species and is especially destructive in mangrove ecosystems.

Mexican petunia, Ruellia brittoniana

This is a pretty little perennial herb with pink, white, or purple flowers. It typically grows up to about 3’ tall and flowers throughout the year. Now this is a particularly tough one since you can still buy this in garden centers and it will grow just about anywhere. But that’s the problem. It invades creek beds, pine flatwoods, hardwood hammocks and other ecosystems and crowds out the native groundcovers along the way.

There are many other invasive exotics plants and here some links where you can learn much more about them and about controlling them:

UF Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants:

Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council:

IFAS Assessment of Non-native Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas:

“Living Green” video on invasive exotics:

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