Florida is known for lush, jungle-like landscapes that feature exotic plants and colorful blooms year-round. But it’s important to note that not all plants are good plants. When a plant is not native to an area it is considered an invasive plant species.
In fact, Florida’s ecosystems are plagued by hundreds of invasive plant species that can cause serious problems for native plants and wildlife. Here are 10 of the most problematic invasive plants in Florida.
Paederia foetida, also called “skunkvine” is a thornless, woody vine that can grow up to 30 feet from a single root system and can climb trees, shrubs or anything else it encounters. As the name suggests, this invasive weed also stinks to high heaven. Skunkvine can be found in at least 17 counties in central and north Florida.
It was introduced to Hernando County from Asia sometime around 1897 and labeled a Category 1 species on the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council’s List of Invasive Species in 1993.
2. Brazilian Pepper
Schinus terebinthifolius, or Brazilian pepper trees, are relatives of poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac.
If that’s not bad enough, some people have also reported respiratory problems associated with the plants’ bloom period. It was brought to Florida from Brazil (or Argentina or Paraguay) in the mid-1800s for use in gardens as an ornamental shrub, largely because of its festive red berries. It thrived in the state’s warm climate and quickly spread beyond garden gates and into the native landscape.
It can be found as far north as St. Johns County and as far west as Santa Rosa County. Brazilian pepper crowds out native plants and provides poor habitat for wildlife. It’s illegal to cultivate, transplant or transport these nuisance shrubs in Florida.
3. Australian Pine
In Florida, “Australian pine” refers to several species of trees belonging to the genus Casuarina.
Australian pines grow quickly and spread aggressively. They love sandy, salty, and swampy places and will quickly colonize areas where native trees have been destroyed by hurricanes. They’ve also invaded South Florida’s hammock islands. Because these trees have very shallow root systems, they tend to topple over in storms that native trees can easily withstand, which poses a threat to homes, people, and evacuation routes during hurricanes.
4. Melaleuca Tree
Towering melaleuca trees (that’s pronounced “mel-ah-LOO-cah” if you’ve never heard it spoken before) are native to Australia — where, ironically, they’re a cherished and protected native species. In Florida, not so much. These trees just love the wet, nutrient-packed Everglades. So much so that some parts of our treasured glades have become vast, impenetrable forests of melaleuca trees.
What’s more, melaleuca is highly flammable and its spread has increased the threat of wildfires in the areas it has colonized. The rapid spread of the melaleuca forests threatens to drastically and permanently change the ecology of the Everglades.
5. Old World Climbing Fern
The Old World climbing fern, or Lygodium microphyllum, is another nuisance invader from down under.
Old World climbing fern was first introduced in Martin County in 1965. It now infests more than 200,000 acres in South and Central Florida. It enjoys our state’s warm and moist climate and thrives where bald cypress stands, mangrove communities, and sawgrass marshes would normally grow. In the Everglades, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports some tree islands have been completely smothered by Old World climbing fern.
6. Water Hyacinth
If you’ve ever driven along a highway through Florida’s wetlands and you saw a perfectly level “meadow” covered with lush green plants boasting lavender flowers, you probably weren’t looking at land at all, but a pond covered with water hyacinth. Scientifically called Eichhornia crassipes, this floating plant is originally from South America.
The plants on the surface block out the sunlight that feeds biologically-important aquatic grasses.
7. Japanese Honeysuckle
Lonicera japonica, or Japanese honeysuckle, is popular in landscapes all over the eastern U.S., where it’s used as a ground cover to control erosion along highways, and in gardens. The downside is that it’s a climbing vine and will cover and choke anything in its way.
The blooms have an attractive fragrance (and produce edible nectar), but the sap can make humans sick or even kill cats and dogs. Despite this, the cultivation of Japanese honeysuckle is not prohibited in Florida.
Lantana camara, sometimes called “shrub verbena” is prized by gardeners for its brightly-colored flowers, but Florida farmers will tell you it’s a serious pest.
Lantana decreases the productivity of the citrus groves and pastures where it likes to grow, and it’s toxic to cattle, pets, and sometimes people. The plant is part of the poisonous Verbenacaea family and produces pentacyclic triterpenoids or toxins that attack the liver. Growing lantana in your garden is not prohibited in Florida, though gardeners with pets or young children should consider a safer, native alternative like golden canna.
9. Rosary Pea
Native to India, Abrus precatorius, or rosary pea, was introduced in Florida as an ornamental plant. The seeds contain abrin, which is one of the deadliest toxins in the world. Rosary pea is now found throughout Central and Southern Florida. Like other climbing vines, rosary pea displaces native plants by competing for water and sunlight, and it can smother smaller native species.
10. Camphor Tree
Camphor trees, or Cinnamomum camphorae, are large, attractively bulbous trees that are native to East Asia. You can identify them by their pointy leaves and shiny, berry-like fruit that turns dark purple or black as it ripens. These trees have been used ornamentally in Western gardens since the 18th century.
Happy to grow in salty marshes and sandy soil, camphor trees have been edging out native pines, cypress and hammocks. Camphor berries and most parts of the tree are poisonous to humans and pets.
Do you have any of these invasive species taking over your yard? Let the professionals at Warner Tree Services take care of it for you. Contact us now.