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Pull Out These Pest Plants

Air potato is a terrible vine that will not even pull off of the trees. Pull what roots you can and cut away any stems you can reach. Put these in the trash, not the compost pile.

Pulling weeds in Florida is not like pulling weeds in northern states. Our weeds are much more formidable, especially during the summer when we work less and they grow more in the heat and rain. Many of them are sown by birds or blown in on the wind and the viney ones are often 15 feet long when I pull them. Here are some of my worst.

Air potato vine (Dioscorea bulbifera) is on the Category 1 list of Invasive Species for all of Florida. This vine grows quickly and produces little hard potatoes right on the vine. With this one it is very difficult to pull up the roots with the slender stems, and it twines so tightly it won't pull down from the trees, so I cut off huge sections between the ground and the twining. The rootless leaves don't even wilt for a week, but they stop forming potatoes. Air potato started coming over my back fence several years ago and has invaded further and more aggressively every year since, though I fight them continuously every summer. Because so many wild places, even in the city, do not fight them at all, we have to work all the harder to keep them at bay. If you don't pull up anything else, pull these vines as soon as you see them. Don't even think of composting them. Put these bad weeds in the trash.

Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) is considered a valued native vine up north, so when it grew up our screened porch our first years in Florida, I welcomed it as green lace curtains keeping out the afternoon sun. I suspect it shows up in most Florida yards. Its five shiny leaflets are palmately compound (like fingers on a hand) and have bright red autumn color. It has inconspicuous flower clusters in the summer and dark fruits follow as it is a member of the grape family. The fruits are poisonous to people, though the birds like them fine. But it is now creeping all over my yard and I sometimes find frighteningly large woody stems leading up into the trees. If you want this one, keep it, but be ready to exert control that will increase every year. It clings by tendrils which can mar wood or brick walls.

Brazilian pepper's seedling trees pop up all over my yard though I haven't seen a mature plant within a mile.

Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius) is even worse. It keeps coming up in my yard even though I haven't seen a mature plant within a mile. It is one the most invasive of the non-native plants in Florida, taking over both wet and dry habitats and really messing up the ecology. I have learned to identify the seedlings with their 3 to 15 finely toothed leaflets which are 1 to 2 inches long on stems already woody when they are very small. The leaves smell like turpentine when crushed. Birds spread the seeds which have a high germination and survival rate.

Wild grape vine is another one that shows up on the edges of my yard on a regular basis, though it is not nearly as invasive as the Virginia creeper for me. That may be because I never gave it space. I had a huge one covering part of our barn in Ohio and could have made great jelly from it, but the fruits are so tiny it takes ages, so I never did. I've pulled it constantly but there are a few places where it comes back. If you miss it for a season, it develops thick woody stems and heads for the treetops. Pull it whenever you see it.

Creeping beggarweed (Desmodium incanum) is a perennial that has a large taproot with many branched runners, which explains why it returns every time I pull it out. The leaves have three oval shaped leaflets with smooth edges and a point on the tip. Flowers are pink to rose. The seeds cling to clothes, sometimes in rows, so tightly that even a washing won't take them off. I've picked off hundreds of these. The plant is a member of the Bean Family and reproduces by seeds, stolons, or broken pieces of root, so it is no wonder it finds us even more often than we find it. It hides in turf or open woods, creeps out of my father's hedge, and slinks into my ground covers. Give it no mercy.

Dog fennel is a weed that looks much like a flower when it is young just to fool us, but unless you planted larkspur there, pull it out.

Dog fennel (Eupatorium capillifolium) is another weed that looks much like a larkspur when it is young just to fool us, but unless you planted larkspur there, pull it out. It turns quickly into a tall perennial with several 3 to 4 ft. hairy stems coming from a woody crown. The leaves stink when crushed. It has tiny daisy flowers and reproduces by seed from New Jersey to south Florida. More than once I nurtured it, thinking it must be a flower, but I've finally learned better.

Another persistent pest in our yards are the seedlings of the oaks. These also have long taproots and will come back if you don't get the whole things. Still, if you prune them off at ground level for enough years, the root will eventually die.

Creeping beggarweed is the one with all the little round seeds, often in rows, that stick to your clothes.