Home' Island Sun : ISN 082616 Contents ISLAND SUN - AUGUST 26, 2016
A Tale Of Two Vines
by Gerri Reaves
Aglance at these two photos taken along a
local nature trail are likely to evoke the word
These two natural scenes exist only yards apart,
and in both, the slash pines and saw palmetto are
draped in a dominant vine, one native and one
Do you know which scene is likely to be a
better food source for birds and other wildlife, and
which spells eventual disaster for native vegetation?
The photo of four large pine trees shows how
even a native vine, in this case, muscadine grape
(Vitis rotundifolia), might seem to be out-of-
control. But remember, this isn’t a yard, but a
Besides, as the colder weather comes on, this
grapevine sheds its leaves, thus opening up the
canopy somewhat and allowing the pines and
other plants more sunlight.
The small shiny blue-black fruits feed a host of
birds, among them blue jays, bluebirds, brown thrashers, cardinals, catbirds, cedar
waxwings, chickadees, downy woodpeckers, finches, flycatchers, mockingbirds,
nuthatches, robins, rose-breasted grosbeaks, sparrows, tree swallows, thrashers,
titmice, vireos, warblers, wood thrushes and woodpeckers.
Muscadine grape is also the larval host plant for nessus sphinx and mournful
Other species like them too, including people, who use them to make jellies,
jams, juices and wines.
Of course, a homeowner would likely prevent the woody vine from climbing to
a tree canopy and duplicating this natural scene, but there’s something beautiful in
seeing the vine run riot in the wild.
The prognosis for the habitat in the other photo is more perilous. Those
heart-shaped leaves voraciously traveling horizontally and vertically belong to the
category-1 invasive species, air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera).
The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council designated it so because it is one of the
most ecologically damaging species in Florida.
This native of tropical Asia and sub-Saharan Africa was introduced to the state
more than a century ago and promptly began smothering the landscape.
So destructive is it and so effective in taking over that the University of Florida
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) recommends that air potato
“be removed from public and private properties to help protect the state’s natural
It’s hard to misidentify because of the pretty pleated leaves and the light brown
smooth potatoes – or tubers – it produces.
And, by the way, don’t even think about eating them, for they are toxic.
It’s also very difficult to eradicate, even on a small scale. Left to itself, as seen
here, it engulfs an area with stems of more than 70 feet long, out-competing
native trees and understory plants.
Instead of providing food for other creatures, it steals nutrients from native plant
species as it progresses toward the creation of a mono-culture.
Underneath the thick coating of air potato, plants such as muscadine grape
and Virginia creeper are struggling to hold their own – not to mention the saw
palmettos, pines and other species.
Air potato is almost impossible to get rid of. Chemical applications and even
physical removal prove to be either ineffective or too labor-intensive or expensive.
More promising is a new type of biological warfare, the leaf beetle (Lilioceris
cheni), which resembles a ladybug. The Eurasian insect feeds exclusively on air
potato leaves and is not believed to be a threat to Florida’s environment.
If your yard, neighborhood or subdivision is harboring air-potato and you’d like
to join the eradication effort, contact the following website for information and an
application for beetle release: http://bcrcl.ifas.ufl.edu/airpotatobiologicalcontrol.
Sources: edis.ifas.ufl.edu, fleppc.org and freshfromflorida.com.
Plant Smart explores the diverse flora of South Florida.
The native muscadine grape climbing these pine trees
produce fruit sought after by many species of birds and other
photos by Gerri Reaves
Air potato, a category-1 invasive vine with heart-shaped
leaves, smoothers native trees and understory plants. Its
removal is difficult, but the release of a leaf beetle offers
promising biological control.
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