Invasive Species Education Program

ALERT: The USDA Extension Office at the fair grounds in DeLand, FL is hosting an Air Potato Challenge for Volusia County on September 20, 2018, between 4:00pm and 7:00pm.   Residents and land managers can learn more about the invasive plant and pick up a supply of air potato leaf beetles during the Air Potato Challenge.  Scroll down this page to our mini article about air potato vine to see if your property may be harboring this villain.  Then go this link and register to pick them up for free:

The beetles are bright red, about the size of a pinky fingernail, and have a big appetite for the air potato plant whose vines can completely consume natural areas, smothering other plants and native habitat. The beetles chew through air potato leaves, leaving them riddled with holes. Researchers have shown that air potato leaf beetles are host-specific to air potatoes and will not feed on other plants.

The insects will be available for pick up only during this event. Residents are encouraged to bring a cutting of air potato for confirmation.

The free program, which will be presented by the University of Florida/Volusia County Extension, is funded by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Advance registration is required; visit For more information, contact Laura Cash at 386-822-5778 or

Below, you will find information and photos of some of the invaders in our county.  Then join the battle by surveying your property for any of these species and eradicating them.  Thanks, from the indigenous species!

The invasive species education program is an information project designed to educate the citizens of Volusia county about  plant species that represent a threat to the biodiversity of native plant communities.  They may cause habitat losses in natural areas from exotic pest plant infestations, and alter the habitat of endangered or threatened species.  If invasive species are left unchecked, it is possible the impact to our community could manifest itself in such disasters as increased wild fires and flooding.

The first step in controlling invasive species is to educate the general public by providing a list of the invasive species, pictures and descriptions of them, a plan to eradicate those species from our yards and lands, and offer an indigenous or non-invasive replacement plant if the invasive species was visually desired.  Below, the VSWCD provides that information as a service to our community.  Please equip yourself with this knowledge and consider your contribution to the eradication of invasive species in your area.  We thank you for your stewardship of our lands and waters.

To participate in mapping of invasive species in your area, contact the Florida Natural Areas Inventory at:

 Early Detection Rapid Response (EDRR) species for your CISMA is praxelis, Praxelis clematidea. Please keep a look out for this species and report it in EDDMapS or the IveGot1 app any chance you get.

Early Detection Rapid Response (EDRR) species for your CISMA is feverfew, Parthenium hysterophorus.
To view the entire EDRR list for your CISMA click Here.

 Praxelis clematidea


A perennial aster that grows to 1.3 m tall.
Leaves are opposite, hairy, coarsely toothed, and emit an
odor similar to minty cat urine when crushed. Leaf blades
are ovate with an acute tip, up to 8 cm long and 5 cm wide.
The lower surface is gland-dotted. Flowers are small and
bluish purple, clustered into discoid heads. with clusters of
small bluish purple flowers.
Prefers disturbed, dry habitats including orange
groves, road shoulders and pine plantations.

Invasive Species of Plants in Volusia County

Brazilian Pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius)                                                        Brazilian pepper should not be cultivated because a) it is disruptive of natural communities and species; b) it causes skin rashes and respiratory irritation in many people. Brazilian pepper plants should be cut off near the ground and the stump painted with a systemic herbicide such as Roundup® or Garlon®.     Does your child, or the neighbor’s child, come in from playing with a skin rash or a respiratory problem?  It could be your Brazilian pepper, or the neighbor’s, which is causing it.  You may like using the berries for home decorating, but there are safer berry sources.  An alternative source of Christmas berries is the Yaupon or Dahoon holly tree.  These two hollies are also a source of caffeine and antioxidants if a tea is made from boiling their dried leaves for 10 minutes or less.  However, their berries are only for the birds…literally!  (There is a chance for nausea if you boil the leaves longer than 10 minutes.)                                                               Comparing Brazilian pepper leaves to Yaupon and Dahoon holly leaves:    

brazilian-pepper-close   Brazilian pepper


dahoon-holly-berries-250x130 Dahoon Holly                                                 Yaupon holly Yaupon Holly                                               Notice the leaves of the Brazilian pepper tend to be wider, more oval shaped, and the veins are more pronounced, while the Dahoon and Yaupon holly leaves are waxier, smaller and more elongated.

COGAN GRASS –  (Imperata cylindrica) is an invasive, non-native grass which occurs in Florida and several other southeastern states. A pest in 73 countries, and considered to be one of the “Top 10 Worst Weeds in the World”, cogon grass affects pine productivity and survival, wildlife habitat, recreation, native plants, fire behavior, site management costs and more.

For a comprehensive resource of information about cogan grass, visit this link:

Cogan grass may be one of the most damaging invasives in Volusia County due to its threat to pasture land and pine producing.  It also increases the risk of wildfires and alters fire behavior.  It was introduced into the USA in the early 1900s from Japan and the Philippines. The native range of cogongrass is vast and includes Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Australia.

root, shoot, and flower of Cogon Grass.
Photo: Cogon grass midrib closeup

Cogon grass is a tall (2-5 ft.) perennial grass with bright yellowy-green foliage. The leaf blades have a mid-vein which is clearly offset to one side, and serrated (toothed) edges. The rhizomes are hard, scaly, and cream-colored with sharply pointed tips. The seed head is fuzzy, white, and plume-like (see images above and below).

Image result for cogon grass images

Eradication:  It has been suggested that an application of “Rodeo”, followed by deep (12″) discing a couple of weeks later, and repeating if any regrowth occurs, is an effective way to eradicate cogan grass.  This process may have to be repeated 2 or 3 times.

Apply by August 30, 2017
A Cogon grass Treatment Cost-Share Program is offered to eligible non-industrial private landowners by the Florida Forest Service (FFS) through temporary grants from the USDA Forest Service. The primary objective of this program is to reduce the spread of cogon grass to new areas by helping private landowners control or eradicate existing infestations.  

See for more information about this pest.

AIR POTATO – Dioscorea bulbifera

 Air potato was introduced to Florida in 1905 when it was sent to the USDA by Henry Nehrling, who later noted its invasive potential (Morton 1976). It has since become extremely aggressive (Hammer 1998). By the 1980s, air potato vines were growing in thickets, waste areas, and hedges or fencerows in many parts of south and central Florida (Bell and Taylor 1982). By 1999, air potato was recognized as an invasive exotic that alters plant communities by displacing native species, changing community structure, and disrupting ecological functions (FLEPPC 2003).

Air potato is an aggressive, herbaceous vine that can attain lengths of 65 feet in a single growing season. Underground tubers may be present or absent. The slender stems twine to the left (counter-clockwise) and are round to slightly angled in cross section. Leaf arrangement is consistently alternate. The thin textured, glabrous (hairless) leaves, which measure from 2 to 10 inches long, are cordate (heart-shaped) with broadly rounded basal lobes, elongated tips and entire margins. The venation is conspicuous on the upper leaf surface.

In Florida, bulbils are spread by gravity and float on water currents. They are also dispersed by heavy machinery and through movement of contaminated brush and soil; therefore, management of Dioscorea bulbifera is generally labor intensive and expensive.


Intensive control program for air potato includes: 1. A leaf feeding beetle, Lilioceris cheni, was recently introduced into Florida from China for biological control of air potato. For more info on the beetle visit:   2. Pruning native vines for better access to non-natives; 3. Pruning non-native vines; 4. Hand application of herbicide to non-native vines; 5. Hand pulling non-native seedlings/tubers; and 6. Positioning and pruning native species to facilitate growth and canopy access.  It is important to dispose of removed plant material in a secure location to avoid re-germination.  Garlon 4, applied at a 10% concentration, provides good control when applied with the basal application method. Completely encircle the lowest 30-61cm of the stem or trunk with the herbicide and form a band at least 15cm wide.  Also, slash the roots with a hatchet to inhibit quick regrowth.

Vines form impenetrable thickets that overgrow, break and sometimes topple trees and shade out smaller native understory plants, eventually altering community ecology. (See images below)

Image result for air potato imagesAir potato

Tropical Soda Apple:

Solanum viarum invades pastures, fields, and parks.  The soda apple forms thick stands that can be impenetrable to livestock, large wildlife, and humans-mostly because of the numerous thorns on stems and leaves.

Flowering occurs year-round, with most reproduction occurring from September to May. The flowers produce 1″ diameter fruit that looks like a tiny watermelon.  It has broad leaves and thorns.

Tropical soda apple is spread by cattle, deer and other wild animals who feed on the fruit and spread the seeds in their feces, and also through harvested hay and turf grass from an infested pasture.  Since each fruit contains hundreds of seeds and each plant can produce 10’s of thousands of seeds, it can be highly prolific.


So far the only successful control of TSA has been the release of a tiny beetle (gratiana boliviana) into the pasture or field.  Since it is a biological control, the beetles continue to thrive as long as there is TSA to consume.  For further information and to contact the University of Florida about the beetles, visit this link:

Chinese Tallow:

This tree grows in dense stands because the seeds which fall, and are carried to other locations, are very hardy.  They have beautiful fall leaves, which is why many people want to plant them.  However, they are invasive and can propagate themselves in the neighbor’s yard where they may be less appreciated.

There are alternatives which supply beautiful fall leaves and are not invasive:  Southern red maple,  sweetgum, Shumard oak, red oak, and rusty black haw (an understory bush) just to name a few.

This tree tends to thrive in wet conditions, but can also live in uplands.


Control of Chinese tallow is limited at this time to manual destruction, preventative measures, and chemical control. The sooner they are removed from their location the better the control.

For more information on Chinese tallow visit this link: Chinese tallow info page

Japanese Climbing Fern

This is fern with climbing, twining stems of indeterminate growth.  They can form thick masses of ground cover or canopy in trees.  Climbing fern can become so dense that they form a “living wall” of vegetation that shades and eliminates necessary undergrowth such as American beauty berry and the tree saplings and seedlings that naturally produce new pine and hard woods.  Understory berry plants are food for animals and birds.  Because it propagates by spores, this fern is prolific and hard to control.


Control of Japanese climbing fern should begin immediately following discovery.  Control measures should be employed when the fern is not producing spores, which occurs in the late summer/early fall.  Metsulfuron (Escort), has been shown to provide excellent control at rates of 0.5 to 1 oz. per acre. Be sure to include a non-ionic surfactant at 0.25% (10 mLs or 2 teaspoons per gallon of spray solution). A combination of these herbicides has provided good control when applied in the fall of the year before a killing frost.  You can help the effort to control this invasive by contacting to help map the spread and find help clearing fern.

Japanese Climbing Fern

Old World Climbing Fern

Old world climbing fern is very similar to the Japanese climbing fern in its habit and highly invasive nature.  The leaves are slightly different in shape, having a smooth rather than lobed edge and is found often in cypress swamps.  Both species form a fire ladder allowing forest fire to reach the more vulnerable branches above. It is distinguishable by its winding tangled rachis (stem). Control of this fern is similar to the Japanese fern.  Prescribed burning can help, but does not eliminate it altogether.  Early discovery and eradication are crucial.

Old World Climbing Fern
Smooth leaves

Sprengeri Asparagus Fern

The sprengeri is not a true fern.  It originates from South Africa and is in the asparagus family. It is found in large colonies, displacing native ground cover and understory shrubs. Asparagus fern has also escaped into tropical hammocks in Palm Beach County, choking out young native plants such as wild coffee.  It is an evergreen plant with long, leggy branches, tiny scale-like leaves and thorns, making trimming and cultivating painful.  Sprengeri is invasive because of its habit of overgrowing its planned parameters.  It is used for ornamental purposes as ground cover or container plants.  It tolerates full sun, whereas fern, usually, do not.  There is an alternative to this expansive plant.  The foxtail fern, also an asparagus, tolerates full sun to partial shade, has branches that stand up, and no thorns.  Their shape resembles a bushy fox tail.  The berries of both are poisonous.

Sprengeri asparagus fern

Foxtail Fern

Downy Rose Myrtle

Evergreen shrub that grows up to 6′ tall with short, dense, soft hairs on the stems.  Has 1″ diameter rose colored flowers.  Produces a dark purple berry. Will establish a dense one-species thicket in the pine under story ( monoculture).  Threatens all other important under story shrubs and new pine growth.  Threatens to become worse than Brazilian pepper here in central Florida.  Apparently “fire-adapted”, downy rose myrtle re-sprouts prolifically after fires. Some humans reportedly harvest the fruit to make jam.

Sounds like a beautiful useful shrub, doesn’t it?  It produces flowers and a berry you can make jam from.  It would be except it is so proliferative that it can spread so easily by seeding (from animal and bird defecation) and will take over the complete under story ecology of a forest.

Alternatives to downy myrtle:  Rhododendron chapmanii (Florida native azalea species, more on this species at:;  Hibiscus;  Walters viburnum;  red mulberry;  elderberry;  flatwoods or chickasaw plum; Miccosukee Gooseberry, a Florida Endangered plant;  soap berries (sapindus saponarius) These berries whip like egg whites. Whipped, with a little sugar, they form  “Indian Ice Cream”.  It laughs off cold and drought.  They also make an attractive landscape plant, especially for xeriscape situations. And, yes, the bees love them.