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FFA students meet for National Farm Safety instruction at Levy Agriculture Center.

Science Behind Weed Control

Science behind weed control entails becoming familiar with identification and multiple control options during National Farm Safety Day.

Levy County Middle/High FFA become familiar with potato identification and control options during National Farm Safety Day.

Extension connects the general public with University of Florida scientist and specialist by providing research based education. The science behind weed control, specifically Dioscorea bulbifera (air potato vine), engages youth and residents to seek out, identify and become familiar with prevention and control options. The goal is to develop citizen scientists in the Nature Coast who help identify air potato populations, collect and submit data and help with prevention efforts.

Shotgun holes are visible. Beetles tend to be elusive, hiding under leaves or in leaf litter. Science behind weed control means proper identification of the plant/pest before taking action.

Underground tubers ensures survival from year to year.

Why is air potato a weed of concern?

  • newly released 2021 air potato management guide found online at FDACS
  • can grows 8 inches per day. Vines exceed 65 feet in single growing season. Plant is hardy in wide variety of growing and soil conditions. They tolerate flooded and low fertility soils.
  • vines crowd out native species and forms a monoculture. Diversity of native species is reduced due to smothering, space and nutrient competition. Vines twine and climb over desirable native plants. Animals relying on native plants for seed, berry or cover are impacted.
  • costly and difficult to control. Vines die back in winter but resprout from tuber in warm season.
  • no major pests or diseases in Florida to impact growth. Farm animals do not graze on it. Originally from Asia, China and Nepal, it was introduced to Florida in 1905.
ulbil may be dark with rough texture or lighter tan colored with smooth texture.

Air potato bulbil are dark with rough texture or lighter tan colored with smooth texture.

Can we eat the air potato?

That’s a great question! I appreciate the resourcefulness behind it. UF specialists do not recommend consumption.  Allergic reactions, illness and contraindication with medication are concerns. Alleged use may be based on unconfirmed information. We strongly caution against eating any part of the air potato plant including, leaf, root and bulbil.

Likewise, animals do not graze on the vine or bulbil. There are no known Florida insects or pathogen that feed on it either. If thorns, hairs and/or tendrils are present, it is NOT the exotic, invasive air potato vine. 

The science behind weed control uses Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to control air potato vine, combining biological, chemical and mechanical strategies for improved success.

Devouring leaf tissue and growing points keep vines lower in the canopy.

Skeletonized leaf results from beetle feeding.

  1. Biological –  release beetle (Lilioceris chini) Spring-Fall. Beetle feeding reduces plant growth. Bulbil quantity and size is reduced.
    > low labor required
    > larvae and adult beetle feed primarily on leaf
    > shotgun holes or lace-like (skeletonized) leaves indicate beetle presence
    > beetle may feed on bulbil. Bulbil generally callous over and feeding damage will not effect its ability to sprout.

“The beetle biocontrol agents are officially established in the state. Each year they overwinter through the long vine dormant period and surviving beetles emerge, reproduce and spread throughout the general area each summer. Extensive research shows the beetles have reduced vine coverage, bulbil production, and bulbil size in many parts of the state. Overall this means the beetles are winning against the vine! ”  Emily Kraus, Biological Scientist, Plant Industry/FDACS, June 2020

What else does the beetle eat?

That’s a good question. In 2004, USDA Quarantine lab, Davie Florida isolated beetles originating in Nepal, China and Africa. Host verification tests were conducted on 41 plant species. Results indicated this specific beetle and larvae feed only the air potato leaf, vine and bulbil. In 2011, beetles were released at select Florida sites.

2.  Chemical
> Follow the Label.
> apply systemic herbicide August – October
> may require repeat sprays, timing is critical
> desirable/non-target plants may be killed
> The Label is the Law.

3. Mechanical
> mow in early spring, repeat mowing for multiple years to slow growth
> Spring- Summer – dig up, double bag and dispose of underground tuber
> cut/pull vines
> collect bulbil in winter. Dispose by double bagging and discarding. Reduces subsequent season population. Reduces potential for spread.

What’s new?

FDACS is promoting an integrated approach to air potato vine management. They ask residents tp use multiple tools to manage the air potato vine. Beetles alone are not enough to eradicate the vine from your property, so using various tools throughout the year is a more efficient way to rid yourself of the vine.

How can I be sure if I have potato vine?

Residents should check out our FDACS Air Potato Biological Control website for great information. Proper identification is step one in managing your plant pest problem. The air potato management guide describes a holistic approach with guidelines for throughout the year. Lastly, the air potato beetle and biological control FAQ’s may answer some of your question. Once you have identified the vine please follow instructions on the website to report the vine if beetles are not present or do not return within 6 weeks of the vine sprouting.

Of course images of plants may be emailed; Bring stem with several leaf attached to Levy County Extension, 625 North Hathaway Avenue, Bronson.

Take the OUCH! Out of Sandspur

Did You Know??
98%  –   Residents using Extension services
and were satisfied with service provided.
Levy County, 2016 survey)

2 Comments on “Science Behind Weed Control

  1. You should have pictures of the weed, such as the air potato, you are talking about

    • That’s a great idea. Thank you for the suggestion. I’ll plan to incude pictures in future gardening blogs.