Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Air potato vines meet their match

LITHIA — It was 38 volunteers versus the air potato plants at Alderman's Ford Park.

After four hours of tugging and gathering on Saturday, victory was in sight: There were 12 trash bags of the invasive vines and 60 pounds of air potatoes in hand.

The group, organized by Randall Middle School teacher Kristi Verdi and the school's service council, attacked vines on the park's north side.

"Every potato counts," said Lonnie Jones, a county environmental specialist. "The potatoes turn into vines."

The air potato is a member of the yam family that scrambles extensively over lower vegetation, climbing trees, covering landscaping and smothering natural ground covers and bushes.

As for the name: The plants have little tubers coming out of them that resemble a potato. They've been a problem here in Florida and surrounding states since the late 1700s.

While the air potato is on the Florida Department of Agricul-



ture and Consumer Services' noxious-weed list, it's close to but not atop the list of the state's most invasive plants.

Florida will spend $1-million on researching invasive plant



species, down 100 percent from last year because of state budget issues, said William Overholt, a University of Florida associate professor who specializes in biological control of invasive plants.

Experts agree that the best way to fight invasive plants is through biological control, and scientists are counting on a tiny insect that feasts on air potatoes. Bob Pemberton of the Invasive Plant Research Laboratory at the University of Florida is studying a leaf beetle from Nepal that feeds on air potatoes.

Only time will tell if the beetle can help to eradicate the air potato. Until then, the battle will be about muscle and manpower. The Hillsborough County parks department invites the community to cull invasive plants twice a year, and other groups often step up to help.

"I'd say we just about got the air potato under control," said Jones, the county environmental specialist. "Cogon grass will be our next project. It spreads spores and rhizomes and it doesn't have a natural predator."

In a month or so, the area cleared by Verdi's crew will be checked for signs of new growth and treated with an herbicide to get the smaller vines.

"I feel that we saved one small corner of earth from the air potato," Verdi said.

. Fast Facts

Florida menaces

There are more than 125 exotic, invasive species identified by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. The Invasive Species Task Force of Hillsborough County has identified 20 especially troublesome plant species in the Tampa Bay region. A non-native invasive is a plant from somewhere other than Florida that spreads aggressively into natural areas. Not all non-native plants are invasive. They become invasive when they outgrow and replace native species in natural plant communities.

Source: Hillsborough County Invasive Species Task Force

Air potato vines meet their match 05/01/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 1:28pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Woman dead in St. Petersburg shooting

    Blogs

    ST. PETERSBURG — A woman died in a shooting Saturday night, according to the St. Petersburg Police Department.

  2. For starters: Rays at Orioles, with a different look to things

    Blogs

    The Rays wrap up their four-game series with the Orioles today and their lineup has a different look, with C Wilson Ramos, OF Steven Souza Jr. and 3B Evan Longoria all gettig the day off.

    The Rays are starting their All-Star, RHP Chris Archer, who needs wins in his final two outings to even his record, going …

  3. All-eyes photo gallery: Florida State Seminoles loss to the N.C. State Wolfpack

    News

    View a gallery of images from the Florida State Seminoles 27-21 loss to the N.C. State Wolfpack Saturday in Tallahassee. The Seminoles will face Wake Forest on Saturday, Sept. 30 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

    Florida State Seminoles fans sing the fight song during the Florida State Seminoles game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack on September 23, 2017, at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Fla.  At the half, North Carolina State Wolfpack 17, Florida State Seminoles 10.
  4. Encounters: Trial by storm for a rookie principal

    K12

    DUNEDIN — When he nodded off to sleep, the hallway lights outside Michael Vasallo's office were on, so the sudden darkness woke him.

    The glow of his desk phone dimmed.

    Michael Vasallo, right, the first-year principal at Dunedin Highland Middle School, talks with the school's head plant operator Clint Case near the back-up generator on campus. The generator failed just as Hurricane Irma passed through Pinellas County, making for a stressful night. The experience made Vasallo long to return to his regular job, educating middle schoolers. [COLEEN WRIGHT   |   Times]


  5. Who is in charge during a hurricane? Hillsborough County and Tampa still can't agree

    Hurricanes

    TAMPA — Who has the authority to order an evacuation during a hurricane?

    Mayor Bob Buckhorn says he has evacuation authority.