Local Invasive Species Alert: Beach Vitex/Vitex rotundifolia
Identification: Beach vitex is a deciduous, woody vine that can reach 1 to 2 foot high and 12 feet wide with runners that can grow infinitely (some reports of up to 60 feet long!). The runners root as they trail across the sand, forming a dense mat. Leaves are 2” long by 1.5” wide, opposite, simple, rounded and grayish green with grayish hairs on the lower surface. The bluish-purple flowers are fragrant, 1 inch in diameter, and turn into round, purplish-black fruit when ripe.
Location: Beach Vitex has been showing up on the Atlantic coast beaches since hurricane Irma when a population from Ponte Vedra Beach was washed out and seeds were spread. While it is not new to Florida, as it has been previously reported in Nassau County, in the panhandle, and in some inland counties, it is a concern for coastal habitats because of its ability to disperse seeds via water. It is disrupting native coastal ecosystems from NC southward and many local ordinances along the eastern seaboard have banned it. Beach vitex is listed as an invasive and not recommended by the IFAS Assessment: https://assessment.ifas.ufl.edu/assessments/vitex-rotundifolia/
Introduction: As is often the case with invasive plants, beach vitex was intentionally introduced for horticultural use. Within only ten years of its introduction to the horticultural trade, it started showing signs of invasive potential. With its rapid growth rate, ability to reproduce both sexually and asexually, easy dispersal through water, and high drought and salt tolerance, beach vitex is a strong competitor. Its brittle stems can easily break off and float away to colonize other beaches.
Concerns: Beach vitex chokes out native strand and dune species by reducing light levels under its canopy and forming dense mats that affect both native plant species and restrict nesting by endangered sea turtles. While it was once promoted as a dune stabilizing plant, it is much less effective than native dune grasses which have a significantly more fibrous root system.
Control: Unfortunately, this plant is still sold as an ornamental. Please do not propagate or purchase this plant. If you have it in your landscape, dig or hand pull to remove and dispose of properly (double bag into trash). It is best to remove before the fruit ripens to avoid dispersing the seeds. Be careful to remove all stem and root fragments as they can easily regrow, even with herbicide treatments.