Florida is home to many exotic invasive organisms- everything from plants to insects and even lizards and salt water fish. But one problem plant that many Florida residents are familiar with is Dioscorea bulbifera, or the air potato vine.
Invasive Air Potato Vine
Native to parts of Africa and Asia, this rapidly growing vine has caused many environmental problems in landscapes and natural areas alike. In the past, herbicides and ‘air potato roundups’ were used to help slow its spread, but it seemed that the vines just came back stronger the next spring.
In 2012, a leaf beetle native to China, Lilioceris cheni, was released for the first time in Florida as a biological control agent. Having passed rigorous testing by the U.S.D.A., the beetle began to have a positive impact on the volume of air potato plants in many areas. But many questions remain to be answered by researchers concerning the vine’s growth and the distribution (and effects) the beetles are having across the state.
The “Air Potato Patrol” is Created!
In order to better educate Florida residents about this invasive vine and how to control it, a citizen science project named The Air Potato Patrol was created. This program was created by Dr. William Lester with UF/IFAS Extension in Hernando County and Dr. Chris Kerr with Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS), and was launched in early June of this year. Their website includes several educational tutorials on:
- how to properly identify the air potato vine
- common look-alike plants
- biology and identification of the air potato leaf beetle
A blog with updates and a forum to ask questions is an important part of the Air Potato Patrol website, giving participants a way to communicate with the educators and researchers who work with this invasive plant daily. Information on how to order beetles from FDACS is also available on the site. If you don’t already have beetles feeding on your vines you can request a shipment free of charge.
Participants can sign up to become ‘citizen scientists’ and gather data about the vines growing on their property, such as when do the vines begin growth in the spring, are beetles present; and if so, how populous are they.
How You Can Get Involved
If you are interested in getting involved and doing your part to help better control this invasive plant, along with helping the scientists working on it; the website address is https://airpotatobeetle.com/. You will be asked to view the tutorials and submit a contact form with the GPS coordinates of the location of your vines. Occasional surveys will be sent asking the members to collect data on the plants and beetles on their property. The response to date has been very positive, but we still need more volunteers to provide information about air potato on their property.