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. Meet the five finalists for St. Petersburg College president

    College

    ST. PETERSBURG — In the last month, five finalists for the job of St. Petersburg College president have taken campus tours and answered questions from students, faculty and staff.

    The Douglas L. Jamerson, Jr., Midtown Center of St. Petersburg College, opened in 2015, is considered a major accomplishment by outgoing SPC president William Law. [SOPHIA NAHLI  ALLISON  |   TIMES]
  2. What you need to know for Tuesday, May 30

    News

    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.

    Austin Mahone performs at the Y100's Jingle Ball 2016 last December in Sunrise. Read our interview with him this morning. [Getty Images for iHeart]
  3. Clarity coming this week on Florida Gators, Malik Zaire

    Blogs

    After months of speculation, we could finally get some clarity this week on the Florida Gators and graduate transfer quarterback Malik Zaire.

    SEC flags outside the hotel of last year's spring meetings in Destin. This year's meetings could have a huge impact on the Florida Gators' season.
  4. At low point two years ago, West Tampa legion post has new home, new hope

    Veterans

    WEST TAMPA — Norma Hernandez is home again, playing bingo with her family.

    John Gebo calls out the numbers during bingo night at the West Tampa Memorial American Legion Post 248. 

The post closed its old headquarters two years ago as numbers dwindled and now occupies a new building. [CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times
  5. Hillsborough's stance on charter schools gets complicated as they take in more students

    K12

    TAMPA — School district leaders are talking tough as Gov. Rick Scott decides whether to sign a sweeping bill on education.

    Students enjoy lunch at a school run by Kid's Community College, a charter operation that has steadily added schools in the Riverview area since it arrived on the scene in 2005. The growth comes as charter schools become an integral part of the education landscape in Hillsborough County, even as school officials lament the impact of charter-friendly measures by the Legislature. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]