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Hoja Santa or Root beer plant

Hoja Santa Potential Invasive Plant

This was difficult to identify since it did not have any flowers.  But one of the Master Gardener volunteers earned her title today by looking for it on-line. One very distinctive characteristic was the uneven shape of the leaf at the base. It also helped when you told us it has a thin finger-like white flower. Once the volunteer discovered a possible choice with a photo (Hoja Santa), you agreed she identified it correctly.

Hoja Santa or Root beer plant, Piper auritum, may emit a scent like root beer or anise – depending on who is smelling the crushed leaf.  The leaves are chopped or minced and added to cooking or used as wraps for meat stuffing. It can reach heights up to 6 feet, it is considered a large shrub.

Its origin is Mexico through Columbia and does not have any preference to soil type. It can reproduce from rhizomes and spreads readily through the root systems. It does grow well in our area, prefers shade but can tolerate full sun and requires little water.  In fact, it grows a little too well. We are concerned this plant will become another unwanted plant pest. Please be on the lookout for it. In the UF/IFAS Assessment of Non-native plants in natural areas, Piper auritum has received a high score indicating it has a good potential for being an invasive plant. We should start looking for this plant and removing it immediately. I am going to encourage you to become good stewards of the land by not transferring plants from other regions – especially tropical areas.  Thank you so much.