Jumping out from the bushes to scare us this week is Mexican petunia (Ruellia simplex). Mexican petunia is a Category 1 invasive plant, the worst category of invasiveness used by the Florida Invasive Species Council. Category 1 invasive plants change how our natural ecosystems function wreaking havoc on native plants and wildlife species and causing costly economic damage. Mexican petunia is particularly prone to haunting and infesting our wetland areas such as Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, but it isn’t picky. Sun, shade, wet or dry, the seeds of this plant can explode from the pods feet away and immediately start growing new populations. In addition to throwing seeds, it can reach its creepy roots and runners out several feet to create large, almost impenetrable mats, smothering everything in its wake.
Managing Mexican petunia once its planted can be very difficult. Years after a relative of mine planted it in her flower beds and it became too overwhelming, we had to use a chain and tractor to take out the mother plants. We were amazed at how long the runners spread and to this day it’s still there, thriving from pieces roots and seeds. The best thing is to avoid planting Mexican petunia altogether and instead choosing native or Florida-friendly plants to attract the bumblebees and other pollinators. To learn more about Florida-Friendly Landscaping and plants to choose from that are attractive to wildlife and conserve water, see below and visit the Florida-Friendly Landscaping website. One of my favorite blooming plants that are highly attractive to pollinators are salvias, including the lovely purple Mexican bush sage that would be a wonderful Florida-friendly replacement for the invasive Mexican petunia. The UF/IFAS Florida Native Plants website can also help you choose purple-blooming native plants in lieu of Mexican petunia, such as our native violets, blue-flag iris, spiderwort, liatris, asters and echinacea just to name a few.
For more information and native or Florida-friendly plant recommendations for your landscape, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Service. You can also view many of these alter-native and FFL plants here at our UF/IFAS Marion County Extension demonstration gardens that are open to the public at 2232 NE Jacksonville Rd. Ocala, FL 34470. Happy Halloweeding!
Native and Florida-Friendly Purple Blooms