Hydrilla, an invasive aquatic plant native to Asia, were recently discovered to harbor a blue-green algae on the underside of their leaves that is deadly to birds.
My sister, Candi Surber, lives in one of those golf communities where the maintenance crews mow and primp everyone’s yard and common areas.
“Is that a weed?” She asks while we’re walking in her neighborhood.
“No, that’s a Spanish needle. It’s a native plant that’s edible, and the pollinators adore the flowers,” I said, sounding a bit defensive.
“Oh,” she said.
She was trying to sound chipper, but I knew what she meant: I’m not eating any weeds.
She’s my big sister, which should explain everything. Her house and yard are spotless and manicured. My yard is 15 acres in the middle of nowhere. Anywhere further than 10 minutes from the nearest grocery store is “nowhere” to her.
Even her dog smells good. Mine smells like she’s been chasing varmints all day and swimming in the pond — which she has.
We wandered along the dirt path amid the butterflies and bumblebees.
I spied a skunk vine trying to gain a foothold along the path. “That’s a weed,” I shouted. I ripped it from the ground and flung it on the trash pile.
So, what is a weed?
I accuse my sister of calling a plant a weed if she doesn’t know the name, but according to the Merriam-Webster, it’s “a plant that is not valued where it is growing … and one that tends to overgrow or choke out more desirable plants.”
Many people know about weeds such as Brazilian pepper and Australian pine. But have you heard about Caesar’s weed, Japanese climbing fern, coral ardisia, cogon grass, Mexican petunia, or chinaberry tree?
Most varieties of lantana and Mexican petunia are invasive but are still sold at nurseries. Many invasive plants were deliberately introduced into Florida as long ago as 100 years as an “ornamental” or cultivar that escaped cultivation. Without natural controls of insects and diseases these plants had in their native habitat, they grew rampant, blocking out sun and nutrients for native plants.
Camphor trees were listed in a mid-1900s forestry guide as “native friendly” and appropriate for streetscaping.
Birds, wind and time spread the seeds and the exotic plants crowd native plants and create monocultures, changing the landscape.
Hydrilla, an invasive aquatic plant native to Asia, have choked our waterways and were recently discovered to harbor a blue-green algae on the underside of their leaves that is deadly to birds. Coots eat the hydrilla, and eagles eat the dying coots and end up dying themselves.
Not all exotic plants become invasive, but it is impossible to determine in advance which will become the rogue plants.
Our municipalities don’t have the resources of manpower and herbicides required to combat them. If we remove them at the wrong time of year, they drop thousands of seeds only to re-sprout, carpeting the ground with offspring.
But as consumers, we can help. By knowing which plants are native, we can buy plants known not to invade.
As for my sister, Candi, she called yesterday and said she planted milkweed in her “garden” for the monarchs. Maybe we can all learn something from each other.
To learn more about evil weeds, visit the website of Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council at FLEPPC.org.
The Hillsborough County Invasive Species Task Force sponsors six days each year that draw around 40 volunteers, who work with city and county equipment operators to remove and dispose of nonnative plants in designated areas. For more information, email Rene Brown at [email protected]
To get more information and identify invasive plants, check TBEP.org/pdfs/Invasive_Plants.pdf
Suncoast Native Plant Society meetings are at 7 p.m. the third Wednesday of each month at the Seffner Extension Office, 5339 County Road 579. Visit SuncoastNPS.org.