Controlling Invasive Plants

Jan 11, 2019 | Apalachicola, Florida, Healthy Habitats, Reserves

Chris Matechik pulls invasive showy rattlebox by hand before it fruits and spreads further. Photos courtesy Apalachicola Reserve.

Every devoted gardener knows that weeding is a labor of love. What could be more beautiful than a garden tended by your own hands? But what about when garden plants becomes the “weeds” of natural areas?

Turns out there’s a lot more labor (and some strategy) involved, as demonstrated by staff at Florida’s Apalachicola Reserve last fall. The team logged hours of hard work to control the spread of nonnative, invasive garden refugees in wetlands and along a shore road and public trails in the Reserve.

“We don’t think of all nonnative species as ‘bad,’” says Caitlin Snyder, Stewardship and GIS Specialist at the Reserve. “Plants grow where conditions are right and there is opportunity. They provide blooms for pollinators, berries for birds, and structure for other plants. What we ask ourselves as land stewards is to what degree are the invasives negatively impacting the surrounding habitat and vulnerable species?”

Commonly planted as ornamentals for their beauty, productivity, and hardiness, many non-native plants have a tendency to escape and thrive in nearby natural areas. Once there, they can displace native plants as they compete for space and resources. They also can disrupt natural hydrologic and fire regimes, reduce biodiversity, and even impact local property values.

On a national scale, the negative impacts of invasive plants and animals combine to result in billions of dollars in damages every year. Management of invasive species helps protect rare or threatened species and reduces disturbance to the environment, economy, and human health.

Caitlin Snyder records the location data and treats Chinese tallow trees in a wetland.

At the Apalachicola Reserve, efforts to manage invasive plants are ongoing. Last fall, the staff focused on the non-native Chinese tallowtree (Triadica sebifera), beach vitex (Vitex rotundifolia), and smooth and showy rattlebox (Crotalaria spectabilis and C. pallida).

They combined hand-pulling with wetland-safe herbicides to control the spread of the plants. To track restoration progress and inform future management efforts, they also collected detailed data on the size, maturity, and location of each treated or removed plant using a high-accuracy GPS unit. 

“Changing environmental conditions and ecosystem disturbance may be allowing invasives to proliferate and outcompete our natives, making our management goals a moving target,” says Snyder. “With limited time, resources, and funding, it’s important to know what works and what doesn’t so can we cost effectively manage them without doing more harm.”


ReservesApalachicola, FloridaControlling Invasive Plants