By Megan Mann, Livestock and Natural Resources agent
This time of year Florida enjoys a big population boom as our neighbors to the North flee freezing temperatures and icy roads for the balmy beauty of a Florida “winter”. Unfortunately, tourists and snow birds are not the only out-of-towners who take advantage of Florida’s warm climate and geographical location. Florida is currently host to approximately 1,700 nonnative species of plants and animals. Collectively known as “invasive exotics” these unwelcome visitors adversely impact ecosystems by competing with native plants and animals. Unfortunately, once an invading species has become established, control and eradication can be difficult, and costly.
Some invasive species that have garnered National attention from right here in Florida include the Burmese Python that has set up camp in South Florida, making meals from native animals as large as the American Alligator and White Tailed Deer! Invasive Crocodiles, far more aggressive than native Gators, have also established populations in parts of the State. Closer to home, the Cuban Tree frog is rapidly out numbering the native green tree frog which occupies the same ecological niche.
It is certainly not hard to find many examples of invasive plants right here in Lake County. Brazilian Pepper Tree, Golden Rain Tree, Air Potato Vine, Coral Ardesia, and Chinese Tallow Tree are just a few of the invasive plants that are disrupting local ecosystems and costing land owners in our communities. Left unchecked, these plants will quickly take over the areas in which they are found, crowding out native species that provide food and habitat for livestock and wildlife. As the UF/IFAS Lake County Livestock Agent, one of my least favorite invasive plants is wild Lantana. This unpalatable flowering shrub, if not controlled early and aggressively, will take over pastures, crowding out more desirable planted forage and leaving less for livestock to eat. Adding insult to injury, Lantana is also toxic to grazing animals and may claim the lives of livestock who do consume it.
What homeowners can do
Homeowners can play an important role in the fight against invasive exotics. The following are some easy steps that you can take to help combat an alien invasion in your backyard:
- Do not intentionally plant exotic plants that are known to be invasive
- Incorporate Florida native plants in your landscape wherever possible.
- Dispose of potted plants properly. Do not toss unwanted plants outside where they may take root and become established.
- Clean hiking boots, shoes, boats, trailers, and other vehicles after use to avoid spreading seed, pests, or plant material from one location to another
- Download and use “IveGot1”, a smart phone app that allows users to easily report invasive sightings so that populations can be better tracked and targeted.
For more information on invasive exotics in Florida please contact your local County Extension office.