Northeast Florida residents are asked to help remove an invasive plant species Saturday.
The Army Corps of Engineers is holding “air potato roundups” in various parks and gardens to kick off National Invasive Species Awareness Week, beginning March 3.
The air potato, or Dioscorea bulbifera, is a vine from China that has been popping up all over Jacksonville, said invasive species biologist Jessica Spencer. She works with the Army Corps of Engineers.
“It doesn’t really have anything in the state of Florida to keep it in check,” Spencer said.
Unlike native plants, this one doesn’t have local insect animal predators that eat it.
“It tends to grow out of control and kind of overtake a lot of the understory plants and even get into trees,” she said.
Spencer said Jacksonville has a wide variety of invasive plants — from Chinese Tallow, which Spencer describes as having gorgeous fall colors, to water plants including water hyacinth — which is actually how the Corps of Engineers became involved with invasive species in 1899.
“Somebody had released (water hyacinth) in the St. Johns River and it clogged the entire riverway and the steamboats weren’t actually able to get through,” she said. “Congress came to us and said ‘okay, you have to do something about this plant.’ “
Spencer said the air potato roundup is sort of like an Easter egg hunt. The vined plants produce round brown bulbs — or “potatoes” — and right now many of them have fallen to the ground.
“Even a 2- or 3-year-old can get out there and locate some of these potatoes,” she said.
The Corps also been using another tactic, releasing the air potato leaf beetle, a bug that only eats air potato leaves. People can request them for free from the Florida Department of Agriculture to help in their yards.
“They will ship you a vial of beetles,” Spencer said.
Those efforts have been so successful that the roundup now focuses on several other invasive plants, too.
As for the potatoes collected during the roundup, they’re donated to the facility that breed the beetles.
The roundups begin at 9 a.m. Saturday at the sites below:
- Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
- Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park
- Tree Hill Nature Center
- Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens
- Walter Jones Historical Park
- Egans Creek Greenway in Fernandina Beach
- St. Johns River State College in St. Augustine
- St. Johns River State College in Orange Park
Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.