An Invasive Plant is Sneaking Back in the Pensacola Bay Area

In 2012 with the assistance of Lucy and Bob Duncan of Gulf Breeze, we discovered the invasive beach vitex (Vitex rotundifolia) growing on Pensacola Beach. We began educating the public about this plant and asking for assistance on identifying where it is and controlling it. With the help of volunteers from the student organization at UWF known as SEAS, we were able to log 57 records of the plant in our area.

The radiating runners of beach vitex expanding over a sand dune on Pensacola Beach.
Photo: Rick O’Connor

Three were found on Perdido Bay, one on Perdido Key, and two near Navarre Beach, the remaining 51 were either in Gulf Breeze or on Pensacola Beach. Of those 57, 49 were either removed or treated with herbicide. The eight records that have not been removed or treated are on private property. The status of beach vitex in Florida is Category I Invasive Plant – not recommended. This means it is an invasive plant however, it is not illegal to possess or sell it – it is recommended that the property owner remove it.

 

In the Pensacola Beach area, most of the records are in Naval Live Oaks. It is very probable the seed bank for these plants are coming from the island. Gulf Islands National Seashore currently has two rangers working daily battling all invasive plants within the Seashore, not just beach vitex. The one plant found growing near Ft. Pickens has been removed.

 

On Pensacola Beach proper, there are three records between Casino Beach and the gate to Ft. Pickens. The plants were either removed or treated at all three locations. I recently re-surveyed the west end of Pensacola Beach and did not find any new records. However, two of the original three have returned.

A patch of beach vitex is overtaking this beach on Perdido Bay.
Photo: Molly O’Connor

There were 21 records found on the east end of the beach between Casino Beach and Portofino. Eighteen of those have either been removed or treated. Three are on private property. We will be conducting new surveys in the next few weeks to determine the status of those 18 records, and whether any new plants have appeared.

 

Beach vitex has been very problematic in the Carolinas where it was first reported. The plant grows very aggressively and actually secretes compounds that kill competing plants, such as sea oats. Once it has a foothold and becomes established it is very difficult to remove or treat. The states of North and South Carolina had a task force to battle the plant for several years.

 

So what can you do to help?

 

First, report any beach vitex on public property. You can do this by either contacting me at the county extension office – (850) 475-5230 or roc1@ufl.edu – or by reporting it on EDDMapS, the central database resource managers use to track and remove invasive species. This site can be found at www.EDDMapS.org and requires you to create an account to report. Photographs are needed for verification and they will ask you to estimate area the plant is covering, so get that information before you log in. Keep in mind there are other invasive species on the island you can report and treat as well. While conducting the survey of west Pensacola Beach recently, I found a single Chinese Tallow and several locations of torpedo grass. I also saw numerous Brown (Cuban) Anoles in the landscaping near a group of condominiums. Understand that you need permission from the property owner to report invasive species on private property; however, you can let me know so that we are aware of it.

The lavender blossom and ovate leaves of beach vitex.
Photo: Molly O’Connor

Second, if it is on your property we recommend you remove the plant. If you need a plant in the location, there are numerous native plants you can choose from and we can help with suggestions. The plant has a series of vines that extend from a central taproot. More established plants will have secondary roots that may be interwoven with other vitex plants, or native ones. We recommend you remove as much of the vine as possible, placing the cuttings in a doubled trash bag or lay out on concrete and allow to dry and die. If you cannot remove the main taproot, it can be treated with glyphosate (Round Up) however, as with all herbicides, do not treat desirable plants. Direct spray nozzles, or wiping with a sponge, can help make sure you treat only the beach vitex you are trying to remove.

 

With the help of volunteers from UWF, and residents on Pensacola Beach, we have done a good job staying ahead of this invasive plant. However, it does seem to be creeping back. If you have any questions concerning the plant, the reporting process, or the removal process, please contact me.