Graced with alluring scents, colorful flowers, and charming vines, non-native, invasive plants often look beautiful but cause serious damage when used in Florida’s landscapes. In fact, habitat destruction caused by invasive species in Florida is second only to habitat destruction caused by development.
Because the climate is so hospitable, invasive species in the Sunshine state cause more of a crisis to the natural environment than in any other state in the continental U.S. Below are 6 of the top invasive plant species in Florida.
1. Brazilian Pepper
Often called the Florida Holly, the Brazilian pepper is considered one of the most invasive plant species in Florida. This species has invaded pinelands, farmlands, mangrove forests, and hardwood hammocks. It aggressively outcompetes native plants. It also produces chemicals which appear to inhibit the growth of other plants. Not to mention, it is salt-tolerant and fire resistant.
They can be managed with chemical methods, as long as the chemicals are specifically for the Brazilian pepper. Also, keep in mind that chemicals can be dangerous, so always read and follow the instructions, and use the recommended protective gear.
2. Australian Pine
If you ever walked barefoot under an Australian Pine, you’ll never forget it. Those hard little “cone-like flower cluster” are murder on your feet. In spite of its name, the Australian Pine is not really a pine. One of the most destructive invasive trees in Florida, it was initially brought to America in the late 1800s in the hopes that it would provide windbreaks along the shoreline. However, its shallow roots made it more of a hazard than a benefit. Heavy storms and hurricanes easily uproot them, and when that happens, they cause even more damage. When they fall, they block streams and cause erosion on our beaches. They are now illegal to plant in Florida.
Often called the paperbark tree, the melaleuca is native to Australia, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. Introduced into South Florida in the early 1900s, the tree was used for “swamp drying” and is one of the most invasive species in the Everglades. An aggressive invader, the tree produces up to a million seeds a year, and over time, can store about 20 million. The seeds are stored until disturbed by an event such as fire, tree felling, frost, or even herbicides, which causes the stored seeds to be released.
The restoration of areas infested with melaleuca need to be well-planned and involves a long-term commitment if all the trees are to be eliminated to prevent re-infestation. Usually, follow-up treatments or removals are required.
4. Water Hyacinth
You’ve probably seen water hyacinths floating peacefully in just about every body of water in South Florida. It has clusters of large, round, glossy leaves and large spikes of lavender-blue flowers. A native of South America, it is now considered a weed in over 50 countries and is certainly an invasive species in Florida’s waterways. It grows in dense mats that displace native plants and jam bridges and flood control structures. These dense mats grow so fast that they can double in size in two weeks. Because of this aggressive growth rate, it is illegal to possess water hyacinth in Florida without a permit.
Management options include biological control, chemical herbicides, mechanical harvesters or shredders, or hand pulling in young populations.
As with non-native species like lionfish and peacock bass, hydrilla was introduced to Florida through aquariums. Often, people would dump their aquariums when moving or just tired of maintaining them. Native to Southeastern Asia, hydrilla is high on the list of invasive plants in Florida and has become a serious weed in ponds, canals, and freshwater lakes. It produces dense canopies that reduce diversity by blocking sunlight from native aquatic plants. Although beloved in some instances by fishermen, hydrilla clogs waterways and makes other recreational activities difficult or impossible.
Despite the uncertainty of their effectiveness, herbicides are often used to try and control this invasive plant. Other management strategies include mechanical harvesting and shredding and hand pulling new infestations. From 2008-2015, the state of Florida spent about $66 million trying to control this plant in freshwater lakes and ponds.
6. West Indian Marsh Grass
Found in shallow waters and wet soils, this invasive plant, like most of the invasive species on this list, forms a dense monoculture in marshes and along shorelines that crowds out native plants. It is difficult to control when growing alongside native grasses because they are both susceptible to the same control methods. Hand pulling is feasible for new or small stands. The best approach is to prevent its introduction in uninfested areas. Once infested, the appropriate method should be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Why Manage Lakes, Ponds, and Waterways?
To avoid the issues that invasive plants can cause in your landscape, lake, or pond, be sure to consult with a professional before installing any plant. The extra time spent ensuring that your landscape is native-friendly will be worth it in the long run. No matter the method, mechanical, biological, or chemical, we have the solution to managing your lake or wetlands and fend off invasive plant features and restore areas to an environmentally sustainable state.