Beach vitex (Vitex rotundifolia) is a plant native to the western shores of the Pacific Ocean. It was first brought to the United States in the 1980’s to help stabilize and restore dunes in the Carolina’s after a heavy hurricane season. The plant quickly began to take over and crowd out natives within their dune system. Vitex has a central tap root and woody branches that run across the surface of the sand, even across pavement in some cases. The plant turns out to be allelopathic (meaning it will produce chemicals to reduce competition with other plants) thus explaining why the native plants began to decline. In the Carolina’s vitex has actually begun to overtake the primary dune system to the point where it is causing problems for sea turtle nesting; the states of North and South Carolina have formed a task force to remove it. www.beachvitex.org
In 2012 the first local report of vitex was first reported in a neighborhood on Pensacola Beach and then quickly afterwards by Lucy and Bob Duncan in Gulf Breeze. The Duncan’s contacted the Extension Office and we have been tracking it ever since. We have currently identified 15 properties on Pensacola Beach who have the plant. 7 of these have given permission to log on www.EDDmaps.com and have begun to remove. EDDmaps has records from Pensacola Beach, Naval Live Oaks in Gulf Breeze and a few from Duval County. University of Florida Extension Agents from the Jacksonville area have indicated it is as far south as Volusia County and South Carolina reports that it has dispersed as far north as Virginia. Vitex is not currently listed as an invasive species in Florida however based on what has happened in the Carolina’s it certainly has the potential to be.
If you feel you may have this plant in your yard you can contact Rick O’Connor at the Escambia County Extension Office to verify the identification. We would like to photograph, measure, and mark the plant before you attempt to remove. If you have a large stand of vitex we would be glad to give you advice on how to remove it.
To read more on this plant you can visit the marine science section of this website. You can contact Rick at 475-5230 or firstname.lastname@example.org