In 2013 a local citizen in Gulf Breeze Florida alerted me that Beach Vitex (Vitex rotundifolia) was on her property and may be growing on Pensacola Beach. The plant was not listed as an invasive species in Florida at the time but was a huge problem in the Carolina’s; forming large monocultures crowding out native plants such as sea oats, and impacting turtle nesting – the states of North and South Carolina had formed a task force to remove it.
After a site visit to the island I had found the plant growing on private property on Pensacola Beach. A review of EDDmaps indicated that this location had been identified and posted, as had two other locations in Jacksonville. Not being listed as an invasive species in our state I sought advice from our county horticulture agent, Beth Bolles, as to whether we needed to begin a campaign to remove the plant. She recommended we should – and thus began a project to identify properties with the plant and try to eradicate from our beach before it became a problem as it had in the Carolina’s.
Step 1 was to see if the plant was growing elsewhere. It was. With the aid of a volunteer we rode bikes all over Pensacola Beach, and posted articles in the local paper about the situation; we were able to identify 24 properties on the island that had vitex (this includes the original homeowner in Gulf Breeze). 16 of these were private property and 8 were public areas.
Step 2 was to educate the private property owner about the issue and give advice on how to remove the plant – if they chose to do this. Information was deliverable via media, flyers, and at community events. 11 of the 16 private property owners have sought our advice and have either completely removed the plant, or are in the process of doing so – it is not easy once it is established in the yard.
Step 3 contact the Santa Rosa Island Authority for permission to remove from public lands. Paolo Ghio (SRIA) graciously gave his permission to remove all vitex from public property. Working with Connor Waganer and the University of West Florida Student Environmental Action Society (SEAS) we conducted workdays on the island to remove the plants.
Step 4 submit records and information to have the plant listed as an invasive species in Florida. The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council and the University of Florida Center for Invasive and Aquatic Plants have both listed the plant as “INVASIVE… NOT RECOMMENED”. This means the plant can still be sold in Florida but that we do not recommend you purchase it.
I am happy to say that after two years of workdays with UWF-SEAS all vitex has been removed from public lands and does not appear to be coming back. This is great news. We will continue to work with private homeowners on Pensacola Beach who may need information or assistance with removing the plant. We have conducted three surveys of Perdido Key but have not found the plant there. We have found it growing in one small patch at Gulf Islands National Seashore’s Naval Live Oaks area and will be seeking permission to remove. We are also looking into using a drone to help locate the plant up and down the island.
If you have any questions about this plant please contact Sea Grant Agent Rick O’Connor at (850) 475-5230 or firstname.lastname@example.org