Invasive Exotic Plants
|Wild taro (Colocasia esculenta) with its heart-shaped|
leaves and wedelia (Sphagneticola trilobata) with its cute
yellow daisy-like flower heads are both invasive exotics.
· Invasive – the plant takes over the landscape.
So the definition becomes a plant that is not native to Florida that grows and reproduces aggressively.
Examples of invasive exotic animal species are the python, which is taking over in the Florida Everglades, and the fire ant, which we all know and respect. An example of an invasive exotic plant species is the Chinese tallow tree, brought here because of its high oil content. Its cultivation spread because of its natural beauty and spectacular fall color and is now extremely invasive in Southern forests and wet prairies. A common garden flower, the Mexican Petunia, is also an invasive exotic. It’s hard to comprehend how something so beautiful could be so treacherous. Here in Highland Lakes, we have been working to eradicate invasive exotic Cogon Grass and Primrose Willow from our lakes and marshes.
Many of the introduced, exotic plant species were selected because of their beauty and their resistance to the chewing and sucking insects found here. This resistance gives the exotic species a selective advantage over the native plants. Most of the time, individuals, organizations and even local governments who contribute to the problem are ignorant of the facts that surround invasive plants.
Additionally confusing, is that invasive plants that are not in a certain extremely invasive category are not illegal to sell or to plant, example: Mexican Petunia. Invasive plants may have beautiful blooms and provide limited food for some wildlife, but they can be destructive to Florida’s native ecosystems.
|Growing coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) |
attracts hummingbirds, which also eat lots of bugs.
Florida-native trees and wildflowers support a whole host of chewing and sucking insects. And it is a good thing they do. The insects which native plants support are, in turn, eaten by other, larger creatures such as spiders, frogs, anoles and birds. Without the insects at the bottom of the food chain, the charismatic wildlife at the top of the food chain would have nothing to eat. Consider adding at least one Florida native wildflower to your Highland Lakes landscape to help our local bird and wildlife population.
So, to summarize, invasive exotics alter native plant communities by displacing native species, providing little or no food for native wildlife and changing plant community structures and ecological functions.
For an excellent article about the history of invasive plants in the Southeast, go to the American Nurseryman magazine, October 2010 issue, page 20. www.amerinursery.com.