Australian Pine: One of Florida's Least Wanted
|Austrailian Pine fruits|
There are three species of Australian pine (Casuarina spp) that have been imported into Florida for various purposes. They were widely planted to soak up the "swamps" in Florida, stabilize canals, and hold beaches. Unfortunately for Florida's ecosystems, the "pines" accomplished all this and more--like seeding prolifically, growing five feet or more per year, producing dense shade, and emitting an herbicide that kills most any other plant that has the nerve to grow within their collective drip lines. They have root nodules, like a legume, that fix nitrogen in poor soils for use as their own fertilizer, and they can tolerate saltiness. Between 1993 and 2005 the populations in Florida quadrupled. What a successful plant!
Why is their success so bad for Florida? Because the sterile monoculture they form has replaced the normal ecosystem of plants and animals that used to inhabit beaches and many other areas. Our loggerhead turtles, green sea turtles and American crocodiles have lost nesting sites on sandy beaches above the high tide line where "pines" have colonized. Farther inland the "pines" have displaced marsh rabbits, gopher tortoises, and many bird species that depend upon the native plants that were out-competed.
Australian pines caused significant damage in our recent hurricanes. Fast growth makes their wood brittle and they break under pressure. The shallow root system makes them susceptible to uprooting, too. They are highly flammable. So even if you ignored the environmental problems with this tree, it's not a good addition to a stormwise or firewise landscape.
Australian pines are on the Category I list of the most invasive plants according to the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council (www.fleppc.org); and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection prohibits possession, collection, transportation, cultivation, and importation of these invaders. Even so, several years ago there was a group of Australian pine defenders in Key West. These folks appealed to the local and state governments to prevent removal of these invaders along the beach in Ft. Zachary Taylor State Park. They wrote poems and dramatic essays saying that the "pines" are part of their history and that they love hearing the wind whistle through their needles. I guess they don't remember stepping on those hard, pointy seedpods that are hazardous to bare feet. Their pleas were successful and these invasives are still there today.
|Ft. Zachary Taylor State Park in 2/11. The Australian pines have reduced the beach |
and have littered the ground with their spiny seedpods. Ouch!
The military has been working to get rid of Australian pines and other invasives growing on its bases. On the Key West Naval Air Station, a multi-year program to eradicate invasives has begun, but it's not an easy task. The first step is to cut down the trees, but then all of the sprouts from the trunks and roots need to be eliminated. It's a huge job.
|This area has been further treated and the Australian pine stumps appear to be dead.|
This post is part of FNPS's participation in the nationwide "Invasive Awareness Week" from Feb 26th to Mar 5th. Tell us what you've been doing to help eliminate invasives. Thanks.
So what to do with all those stumps?? Sit on them!