By Susan Gildersleeve
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – When a weed is completely uprooted, the sound it makes is distinctive and satisfying: audible proof that, thanks to your effort, a noxious plant has just released its grip on the soil. The sound is never more pleasing than when the weed you’ve vanquished is Ardisia crenata, commonly known as coral ardisia.
It’s a February afternoon in north central Florida, and researcher Stephen Enloe of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants (UF/IFAS CAIP) is out in San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park pulling up coral ardisia plants. He’s monitoring patches of the rapidly spreading invasive in the park to learn how to manage it better all over the state of Florida.
Very small coral ardisia seedlings can be pulled by hand, but left alone they quickly develop tenacious umbrellas of roots that make them tough to yank out. Frequently—and annoyingly—even spindly-looking plants will snap off at soil level, leaving the root structure unaffected and safe underground. The plant will recover and sprout again from the root. They can grow up to six feet tall and produce many seedlings.
Enloe shows us how to identify mature coral ardisia by its shiny, scalloped dark green leaves and bright red berries. The leaves of the young seedlings carpeting the ground around us are a brighter green and, like the adult leaves, distinctly scalloped.
Native to Asia, coral ardisia was introduced to Florida as a landscape shrub over a hundred years ago. It did well, and people found its scalloped leaves and contrasting berries attractive, so many people planted it in their yards. The problem was, Enloe reports, “It didn’t stay where we planted it.”
Until recently, coral ardisia spread was somewhat limited in Florida. However, it has now invaded almost every county in Florida, as well as parts of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and Hawaii.
Wherever it takes hold, coral ardisia takes over the forest understory, shading and crowding out native plant species and depriving many other native species of the benefits native plants used to provide. The plant has been declared a noxious weed, and it is illegal to buy, sell, plant or transport in the state of Florida
We find a little violet growing on a slope under an oak tree. There should be many more violets, here, along with other native flowering plants. Instead, the violet is all alone, and a green carpet of coral ardisia seedlings blankets the ground around it.
Fortunately, the embattled violet has many allies. Enloe and other UF/IFAS researchers are wrapping up a two-year study funded by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and focused on finding ways to manage coral ardisia, and you can help, too, by pulling the plant out of your yard.
For larger plants, Enloe advises trying a weed wrench that will help make sure the whole plant is uprooted so it can’t sprout again.
Enloe demonstrates on a nearby plant. It looks delicate and pretty, but below ground it’s sturdy. Its robust root system makes the plant impossible to pull up by hand. With the help of the weed wrench, however, it’s easy for Enloe to pull the whole, thick, snarled spray of roots out of the ground. He holds it up and declares, “This plant is controlled.”
Click here to watch a short video on coral ardisia.
For more information on how you can help control coral ardisia and protect Florida’s native flowering plants, please consult these sites:
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.