Master Gardener Volunteer Program team member
Florida. What a wonderful place to live. Beaches, sunshine, water. And an amazing array of beautiful, colorful plants that can thrive here, including orchids, bromeliads, flowering trees, and vines.
But, the natural conditions here that offer a wonderful opportunity for plant life to take hold also open the door for something far from wonderful: invasive species.
Invasive species often have been or are brought to Florida from other areas where climate, habitat and other natural factors help to keep them in check. Here, though, these safeguards might not exist. In that absence, invasive plants can take hold and, often, thrive at the expense of other plants.
This post, the latest from our Master Gardener Volunteer program, launches a series on invasive plants. We want to provide Central Florida growers, residents and even visitors with a useful, accurate resource.
The focus will be on the Central Florida region, which includes Sarasota County, because some plants that are fine to grow in this area might be considered invasive in South or North Florida, and vice versa.
We also realize that some people reading this blog don’t have the training or experience level of Master Gardener Volunteers. So, our first step will be to define some terms you’ll see moving forward, to make sure we’re all on the same page.
- Native – a species that occurs naturally in a certain geographic area
- Non-native – a species that does not occur naturally in a certain geographic area.
- Introduced – a species brought to a new area intentionally or unintentionally by humans.
- Established – a species having a self-sustaining and reproducing population in a specified area without the need for human intervention. This applies to both native and non-native
- Invasive – a species that a) is non-native to a certain area (in our case, Central Florida), b) was introduced by humans (either on purpose or not) and c) does or can cause environmental or economic harm or harm to humans.
- Nuisance – an individual or group of individuals of a species that causes management issues or property damage, presents a threat to public safety, or is an annoyance. This can apply to both native and non-native
- Range change – the circumstance of a species’ current/existing range growing, shrinking, or shifting over time. This change can happen to both native and non-native species with or without human assistance.
While there is a wide variety in the types of invasive plants we will highlight in the coming weeks, they share many similarities in how they are able to take over an ecosystem or even region. Primarily, they:
- grow quickly;
- have rapid reproductive cycles;
- have a lot of offspring;
- adapt easily to changes in their environment;
- tolerate a wide range of conditions, like dry or wet, sun or shade; and
- lack native predators.
Each month, we will present one invasive plant, along with a photo (or photos) to illustrate it. We will explain how it grows, how to remove it, and what to plant as a good substitute.
Our identification of invasive plants will come from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), which provides a research-based scientific assessment that is updated regularly. If you want to look up specific plants, view the current listing of plants at https://assessment.ifas.ufl.edu/assessments/
We hope you’ll join us on this journey. Together, we can grow beautiful, healthy, Florida-friendly plants.
Definitions courtesy of Journal of Extension, “Invasive Species Terminology: Standardizing for Stakeholder Education,” June 2020, Volume 58, Article #v58-3a3