Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Why he digs indigenous plants

ST. PETERSBURG — You may have noticed a strand of saplings while driving toward Tampa approaching the Howard Frankland Bridge.

What you really saw was a war. Brazilian pepper trees, an invasive species that ruled on a spit of earth since the causeway was built in 1958, are being slashed by the thousands. Native sea grapes are taking back the land.

Behind the $1 million project of the Florida Department of Transportation is William Moriaty, a longtime Tampa Bay activist who, in his guerrilla past, slipped into parks at night with seeds and shovels to plant young trees. Moriaty, 54, is a roadside vegetation coordinator for the state road agency, where he has worked for 16 years. We chatted with him about his project.

Why are you taking out Brazilian pepper trees?

It's what we call an exotic nuisance plant. It just starts pushing out much of everything else that belongs there. It has a negative impact on our operations. … It's not uncommon that when it would grow near our fence line, it would blow our fence line out. We need to keep people (and animals) out of an eight-lane expressway like that for safety reasons.

How many Brazilian peppers are out there?

The first phase of our project is 20 acres. It's a 6-linear-mile area, with 3 miles on each side, the north and south sides of the Howard Frankland Bridge. Not all of it is Brazilian pepper. Some of those are also desirable mangroves. Of the 20 acres, about 15 acres (of peppers) have been removed. … The second phase is another 14 or 15 acres.

How did they get here?

The Brazilian pepper tree was brought here in the late 1800s as a replacement for holly trees. They didn't know it would become such a nuisance.

How do you remove them?

You cut these down and they will come charging back. … We've removed these mechanically, where we are able to chop them down to the stump. Once they cut it down, there's a person behind them with a backpack sprayer. They use a systemic herbicide, triclopyr. … That has to be done in 15 minutes because plants almost immediately begin to heal themselves."

Why use sea grape as a replacement?

Once it's established, it literally needs no care. We're putting in 4,441 sea grape plants. They're 3 to 6 feet in height. We're also planting over 1,000 buttonwood trees in areas that are not inundated by water. ... Also, we're putting 3,000 Florida privet, another coastal native, in drier areas."

How much does this cost?

The contract is for $1 million. We're buying the sea grapes for about $44 apiece and the privets for $47 each. The trees are about $170 apiece. The contractor is Pine Lake Nursery in Tampa.

How did your background as an activist begin?

It started at age 16 when I fell in love with the native trees of my home state of Florida. Witnessing so much of their destruction in the early '70s in the name of development prompted me to take action through making it a personal mission to plant trees wherever and whenever I could, particularly for the sake of future generations.

Luis Perez can be reached at or (727) 892-2271.

Why he digs indigenous plants 02/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 2, 2010 6:53pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Charlie Gard's parents withdraw legal action over their sick baby


    LONDON — The parents of critically ill baby Charlie Gard dropped their legal bid Monday to send him to the United States for experimental treatment after new medical tests showed it could no longer help.

    Chris Gard and Connie Yates, the parents of critically ill infant Charlie Gard, arrive at the Royal Courts of Justice in London ahead of the latest High Court hearing in London Monday July 24, 2017. They  returned  to the court for the latest stage in their effort to seek permission to take the child to the United States for medical treatment. Britain's High Court is considering new evidence in the case of Charlie Gard. The 11-month-old has a rare genetic condition, and his parents want to take him to America to receive an experimental treatment. [Jonathan Brady | PA via AP]
  2. Restaurant review: Food and beer pair nicely at the Eatery at Brew Bus Terminal and Brewery

    Food & Dining

    TAMPA - Tampa Bay's craft beer scene is perennially in flux. New breweries open, others close or get scooped up by bigger breweries, some reinvent themselves so they can sell beer off site, and still others build on kitchens and add food to give enthusiasts another reason to sit tight.

    A Passion of the Heights hibiscus wheat ale is displayed at The Brew Bus in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, Jul 19, 2017.  The Brew Bus Terminal, which houses a microbrewery and tasting room and serves as a hub for bus tours to local breweries, has opened an on-site kitchen called the Eatery. With the opening of the new casual dining concept, the brewery joins the ranks of microbreweries across the country that have asked that question: "What goes with beer? Hey, how about food?"
  3. For starters: Rays vs. Orioles, seeking to halt a skid


    After being swept by the Rangers, and losing four straight, the Rays are looking to get back on track tonight against the Orioles, and they have LHP Blake Snell on the mound.

     Blake Snell will be on the mound tonight.
  4. This 'SNL' writer is cracking up Twitter with his replies to President Donald Trump's tweets


    Josh Patten is a writer for Saturday Night Live. Earlier this month, he began responding to President Donald Trump's tweets as if they were private texts to Patten.

  5. Snooty the manatee's death prompts outpouring of support, petition to move Confederate monument


    BRADENTON — The South Florida Museum aquarium remains closed Monday and tributes continue to pour in following the shocking death of Snooty, the beloved manatee who captured the hearts of …

    Four-year-old Katie Blair pays her respects to Snooty at a makeshift memorial in front of the museum on Sunday. Katie and her family has visited the aquarium to see Snooty four times this year. 
Snooty was the world's oldest living manatee in captivity and celebrated his 69th birthday Friday at the aquarium. Aquarium officials described Snooty's death as a tragic accident and is being investigated. [LUIS SANTANA   |   Times]