PRETTY DESTRUCTIVE – County seeks to educate on scourge of invasive plants

It may sound dreamy, but the Hawaiian half flower is a nightmare.

This invasive species can take root, and take over an entire dune line.

Not only are coastal dunes important to the well being of native wildlife and plants; they also serve a vital service in preventing storm surge and keeping beach erosion at bay, protecting infrastructure and property.

But when invasive plants appear, so does Curtis Byrd. As chairman of the Melbourne Beach Environmental Advisory Board and a longtime environmentalist, Byrd has seen his share of the Hawaiian half flower. Earlier this year, he led a team of volunteers who said “aloha” to the invasive exotic invader by removing a vast quantity from local parks. At the same time, they planted sea oats throughout the dunes.

“Starting with Loggerhead Park Preserve, we have had a program since the beginning of the park on removing the exotics,” Byrd said. “At the time we purchased the two lots, it was covered with Brazilian peppers. A community effort removed them and we planted sea grapes, fire bush, necklace pods and sea oats.”

Invasives are plants that are not native to the area and cause damage to the local environment. According to Byrd, they used to die off in colder winters. But with mild temperatures they’ve flourished.

“We are hoping to have a program and remove more of them throughout the years,” Byrd said. “Definitely when we have volunteers during the beach cleanups and sea oat planting.”

With strange names like mother-in-law tongue and oysterplant, invasive plants can be attractive to the eye, but can cause serious destruction to the environment. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates this damage costs billions of dollars in the country every year.

But invasive plants are not always easy to spot – and some are even sold in stores, including Mexican petunia, oysterplant, asparagus fern, Brazilian jasmine, mother-in-law tongue, periwinkle, lantana and shrub verbena – unless it is labeled as a sterile hybrid.

To help residents identify the good from the bad, Melbourne Beach provides a database of information about invasive plants though its website with a full listing of invasives and natives.

Melbourne Beach Interim Town Manager Elizabeth Mascaro said the Department of Environmental Protection encourages the town to remove invasives in the dune area.

“We must replant the area within three days of removal with dune approved plantings such as sea grape, saw palmetto and sea oats.,” Mascaro said. “Sea grape and saw palmetto are in very short supply right now. Once the town is able to secure a large quantity of the approved plantings we will remove the beach vitex, mother-in-law tongue and scaevola.”

According to Melbourne Beach Mayor Jim Simmons, the town has taken a few legislative actions to educate the public and to mitigate the presence of invasive plants. Among them was including a revision of the landscaping requirements to remove exotic invasives on new construction by implementing a point system on plantings that requires that a minimum score is met before a certificate of occupancy is issued. The town also removed the permit requirement for removing trees which are officially listed as exotic invasives.

Other coastal communities are also actively working to battle beachside invasives.

In Indian Harbour Beach, City Manager Mark Ryan says, to his knowledge, the Brazilian pepper tree is the most common invasive species in the community.

“The city has removed some of these trees from municipal properties that are a fire hazard and choke out the desirable species,” Ryan said.

“In the past, an area resident would assist homeowners in the removal of these trees; unfortunately, he retired and has since passed away.”

To keep residents informed, he said the Indian Harbour Beach Garden Club will periodically submit articles for publication in the city newsletter addressing the issue.

A few years ago, Indialantic created an Environmental Advisory Task Force. Indialantic Town Manager Michael Casey said they have been working together to identify and remove the invasive plants and replace them with native plants.

“We have removed some invasive plants from our parks and other areas,” Casey said. “The group has been working on educating residents about the issue of invasive plants.”

In May, Satellite Beach adopted a resolution banning the municipal use of the chemical glyphosate (contained in weed-killer Roundup), a move that the town’s community development director, John M. Stone, says has brought more focus to the invasive plant issue.

“Satellite Beach has begun removing invasives and replanting areas with natives. This is being done either by removing weeds and invasives mechanically or using environmentally friendly organic treatments for invasive management which complies with the new resolution of no glyphosate,” Stone said.

Stone said the city, in partnership with Treasure Coast Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CISMA), has removed Beach naupaka (Scaevola taccada var. sericea) from the beach access at Park Avenue and replaced the invasives with native plants including beach berry (Scaevola plumieri), sea oats, blanket flower, fire bush, fiddle wood, gumbo limbo and other natives.

Residents were invited to participate and get a hands-on experience identifying invasives and learning how to remove them without herbicides.

The city also tries to get the word out about invasives though its bi-monthly newsletter, outreach through workshops, the Sustainability Board website and boards which now include a Junior Sustainability Board at both DeLaura Middle School and Satellite High.

Nick Sanzone, environmental programs coordinator for Satellite Beach, said that as part of the City Sustainability Action Plan, the Sustainability Workshop series has addressed this issue at three workshops over the last two years, with another planned in October.

“Also, the city’s Sustainability Board attends all of the major city events and has a table with informational pamphlets about a number of topics including the dangers of invasive plants,” Sanzone said. “The Coastal Garden Fair and Earth Day Celebration was one such event, where residents not only learned about invasive plants but also had the opportunity to purchase a variety of native plants from local vendors.”

Sanzone said that in addition to providing education and resources for residents, there have been conversations about policy changes that would promote removing invasives and planting natives. Recently the League of Women Voters has expressed interest in teaming up with the city to give away one native tree to each Satellite Beach resident as long as they pledge to care for it, Sanzone said.

“The city is always looking for ways to help facilitate the process of planting more native plants to increase habitat for the local wildlife,” he said. “Converting municipal landscapes to xeriscapes and protecting the local areas with native plants is another way that the city is promoting natives over invasives.”

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