Plants are known to have natural enemies, whether it be insects, animals, weather, or just humans. Most plant populations stay at reasonable levels because of these enemies. Invasive plants may not be affected by the local insects or animals the same way as native plants.
A whopping 1,500 plants that are not native to Florida have taken root in the state. Not all of these plants are invasive, but enough are to pose a considerable threat to the local habitats. The Florida Invasive Species Council regularly posts a list of the invasive species to be concerned about.
Background on Florida’s Invasive Plants
Florida is in the top three states affected by invasive plants yearly. A recent study by the University of Florida and The Nature Conservancy says that more funding for battling the invasive plants could make a difference. $45 million is spent a year to help, but the study shows that whether or not it works depends on how much funding is given to fighting each specific plant.
Part of the problems with invasive plants is they often take space and nutrients away from the native flora, which can cause huge issues. Some plants grow so thick they choke out any other plant that attempts to develop without the benefit of feeding animals in the area.
Other plants can clog the natural waterways and choke the oxygen out of the water, making it more difficult for fish to thrive. There are all sorts of ways that invasive plants can cause serious trouble.
What Are the Major Invasive Plants of Florida?
With all these plants invading Florida, you may be curious to know what truly makes a plant invasive. We’re going to take a look at the real troublemakers in the state and see what it is they do that’s so problematic.
A study published in the Cambridge University Press names the plants we should be most concerned about. It lists:
- Australian pine
- Brazilian peppertree
- Old World climbing fern
These four plants expanded outward from 2010 to 2012 and were known to cover around 728,000 hectares of land within the Everglades, which is not an insubstantial number.
Why Is the Everglades Important?
You may have noticed that these four abundant plants are mostly found within the Everglades, harming the fragile ecosystems therewithin. Most people in Florida don’t live near the Everglades; therefore, they may not understand what it does to contribute to the Florida economy.
The Everglades provides drinking water for 8 million Floridians from its many springs. Moreso, it provides a liveable habitat for many animal species, like the American crocodile, Florida panther, and endangered manatees. Without the Everglades, many plants and animals would have gone extinct long ago.
Invasive plant and animal species have inundated the Everglades, which is problematic for many reasons, but mostly because it spells out the eventual ruin of a beautiful and intricate ecosystem.
Now that we understand what is so vital about the Everglades, let’s learn about the plants that harm them.
The Australian pine is a tree that disguises itself as a regular pine tree. Australian pines were initially planted, usually on beaches, to help strengthen the beaches and serve as breakers for the wind. This didn’t work out well because though they can grow up to 80 feet tall, they blow right over in a strong wind. Those who have ever walked along a Florida beach on a windy day know how powerful those winds can get.
What marks this species as so invasive is that they spread quickly and grow faster than native plants. When they fall over on beaches, they can disrupt sea turtle nests and other animal lives. They invade areas meant for other plants and vegetation and completely take over. In fact, even their pollen negatively impacts during the spring and summer months, causing respiratory issues in people.
The Brazilian peppertree at first seems quite innocuously pretty with its shiny red berries and luxurious leaves. Don’t be fooled! An article from the Journal of Florida Studies shows that the Brazilian peppertree is a plant to be wary of.
The Brazilian peppertree is estimated to have covered around 30,379 hectares of land within the Everglades. What it does is grow so thick and dense that other plants can’t grow.
It thrives near the water and keeps the mangroves from growing. Mangroves create their own mini-ecosystems that are very important to many different plants and animals, especially among the Everglades. The Brazilian peppertree lacks the diversity and nutrients that mangroves can provide.
Hardly alarming in appearance, melaleuca trees tend to grow in clusters and push out any other native plants. They flower in lovely white stringy petals but are masters of taking over.
These trees can grow in dry and wet places because their roots know how to dig in deep for moisture. Warm weather is where they thrive best, growing primarily in South Florida.
Melaleuca trees have no natural competition, so they expand quickly once rooted. They’ve taken up 17,802 hectares of land in the Everglades.
Old World Climbing Fern
Lastly, we have the Old World climbing fern. It grows upwards quickly and creates a canopy, blocking out light and moisture for any vegetation beneath. This is how it completely takes over the areas it grows within.
The Old World climbing fern prefers moist areas and is widespread. If a fire were to start, the fern could create a fire ladder, leading the fire upwards and outwards. Native plants are generally lower and more fire-resistant, which is why invasive species can be so damaging.
Invasive species of plants cause millions of dollars in damage each year and take billions in funding to help regulate. Florida has been doing damage control for more than a century, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing down.