An edition of: WaterAtlas.orgPresented By: Orange County, USF Water Institute

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Commissioner's Corner: Battling invasive species

Every day, Orange County works tirelessly to keep the spread of invasive plant species at bay. Many of the species can cause great harm for native plant and animal life. Proliferation of these invasive plants leads to a loss of biodiversity, disrupts the environment, and alters long-standing ecological processes vital for the survival of native and unique flora and fauna. They have few natural predators and can often grow wildly without native insects or diseases to keep them in check. These species have a very real cost to taxpayers. According to the University of Florida, the state spent over $80 million dollars a year to control both aquatic and terrestrial invasive plant species.

Over 75 non-native invasive terrestrial plant species now call Central Florida home. Common examples of these plants include the Brazilian pepper, air potatoes, Chinese tallow, Australian pines, Japanese honeysuckle, swamp morning glory, and old-world climbing fern. Many of these species were brought to Florida intentionally for decorative uses. The Brazilian pepper, for instance, was documented to have been brought to Florida for use as an ornamental tree as early as the 1840s. Since then, this species has spread across the state, with over 700,000 acres infested with this plant. Its dense foliage blocks sunlight from reaching many native plants and its bright red seeds are readily spread by birds. In addition, the Brazilian pepper produces certain allelopathic agents, which appear to suppress the growth of other plants.

Orange County’s Environmental Protection Division is actively working to control the spread of non-native invasive species. County staff conducts surveys of county-owned green places each spring and fall. Any invasive species are logged into a computerized mapping system. Orange County staff treats small infestations in-house. The county generally hires outside contractors to remove larger infestations. Funding for much of this work comes from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission’s Upland Plant Management Program. This program aids local governments in removing invasive plants from public conservation lands. The county controls invasive plants through pesticide sprayings, manual removal of plants, fruits, and seeds, and by organizing public events such as the Air Potato Raid in which volunteers join with Environmental Protection Division Staff to find and dispose of air potatoes.

You too can help stop the spread of non-native invasive plant species. Follow Florida-friendly landscaping guidelines to ensure your ornamental lawn plants do not inadvertently spread to nearby parks or environmental lands. A listing of local invasive plants is available online from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences to help you identify these problem plants. If a non-native invasive plant is spotted on your property, you may remove it safely as long as you take precautions. Carefully dispose of trimmed material from invasive plants, especially material with attached seeds or spores. If removing a spore based invasive species such as ferns, be sure to remove all plant material from your shoes and immediately wash your clothing to prevent spores from spreading. If the invasive plant is a low-growing bush or vine, pull up the plant completely by its roots. Herbicides may also be applied to certain species until the leaves are wet. Several herbicidal treatments will be necessary.