By Marisa Webber
For years across Florida, a non-native species known as Air Potato Plant has been covering and killing native plants and trees. Just over a year ago the Florida Department of Agriculture working with Hillsborough County released 300 beetles into a portion of Alderman’s Ford County Park in hopes of controlling the invasive plant.
Now, a year later, the Air Potato Beetles are proving to be a success; when visiting Alderman’s Ford it is apparent the work being done by these insects. This park was just one of many chosen throughout Florida for the insects to be released.
“Alderman’s Ford was chosen because of a high density of air potato, its central location with natural preserve lands on both sides of the park, and the many areas on riverbanks which are difficult to access,” said Sheryl Bowman, environmental scientist for Hillsborough County.
Other parks that have been chosen include Rhodine Scrub Nature Preserve, Rocky Creek Trails Nature Preserve, Marsh Creek Nature Preserve, the Kitchen Preserve and Lithia Springs Preserve.
These invasive vines were originally brought here in 1905 from China. While looking for a way to effectively control air potato, the Air Potato Beetles were imported from China. The state of Florida studied the beetles for five years before they decided it was safe to release them into parks and preserves. These insects are currently for research purposes only and not for sale to the general public.
“Most of the people want beetles. There is not enough supply yet, but the beetles are migrating and may get to their properties without special releases,” said Bowman.
There is cautious optimism that the Air Potato Beetles will continue to do as planned and return the Florida landscape back to its original beauty. For more information or questions about the research, contact Bowman at firstname.lastname@example.org.