Staff Report

When we think of things as being invasive, we often imagine something like water hyacinths covering every inch of a waterway, or acres of Brazilian peppers blocking out the sun where nothing else will grow.

Invasive species are all around, both animal and plant, they harm our ecosystems and alter them; sometimes in irreversible ways. Some have been here so long they are accepted as part of our normal environment.

Part of the job as an Environmental Horticulture Agent with UF/IFAS Extension is to educate people on the merits of eliminating these exotic plants and animals. It is sometimes an uphill battle. One of the plants that comes to mind is lantana camara, beloved by butterfly gardeners and loathed by ranchers and citrus growers. Most homeowners that grow lantana are not familiar with the invasive issues surrounding this hated and beloved plant.

Because it has been in cultivated in Europe since the 1800s, it has been released widespread in warm climates of the United States, with many cultivars being introduced. The University of Florida lists it as a Category One invasive.

It has taken root in Florida’s natural areas and crowded out native species. It is toxic to cattle, blistering their skin in smaller doses and possibly killing them if too much is ingested. Other animals such as cats and dogs can become sick if they eat the berries. It has crossed with native lantana depressa in south Florida to the point that these species are rare and possibly threatened if not extinct.

Birds are also fond of lantana. Unfortunately, they are almost single-handedly responsible for its spread across the countryside. This is a reason gardeners do not see little seedlings popping up around the plants in their garden. Lantana takes weeks to germinate and those that are not eaten by birds often never sprout. Passing through a bird and deposited in fertilized packages is helpful to break dormancy for the seed to germinate.

Butterflies and other pollinators love lantana. Conflict with gardeners that cannot give them up have a simple solution. Sterile varieties are now available on the market. You no longer have to be part of the problem but can part of the solution by promoting and teaching about these varieties.

The University of Florida has released two varieties called Bloomify Red and Bloomify Rose. With these varieties you can be assured that none of your plants will seed. Lantana is a great pollinator plant, but using sterile varieties is an important way to protect our natural areas.

Have a plant problem, a bug to ID, or any other horticulture-related issues, visit a UF/IFAS Cooperative Extension office.

Root of the problem

desoto@ifas.ufl.edu, 863-993-4846

2150 NE Roan St., Arcadia

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