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Coconut Palm Massacre In South Florida State Park

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Chester B

Part of the ignorance has to do with a static mindset where "this is how things were" as if there was one perfect state, discounting all change.   As we all know species appear and disappear, animal and plants species do in fact spread and recede naturally without the aid of man, and that's ok.  

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Valhallalla

Some good discussion on a topic that will always be controversial. Lots of food for thought.

On Monday I spoke on the phone with Ernie Cowan, Biologist (Environmental Specialist III) for District 5 Florida State Parks overseeing 25 parks from Fort Pierce to Key West. It was a cordial conversation and while I still may not agree with the policy it gave me a better understanding of some of the process. I thank him for taking the time to hear me out and explain stuff to me. Mr. Cowan followed up with an email that sums up what he conveyed to me better than I could so I'll just paste it here:

 

I enjoyed speaking to you about our invasive species removal program and specifically about the coconut palms (Cocos nucifera) at Mizell-Johnson.  I have attached the current FLEPPC List of invasive Exotic Plants and a link to their website.  The website explains the process of listing and more information on the species listed.  Note that they have changed their name to Florida Invasive Species Council (FISC).
https://floridainvasivespecies.org

The Division of Recreation and Parks conducts a natural systems management program which serves to maintain or restore, to the greatest extent possible, the function of natural processes and ecological systems on lands under its jurisdiction. Such a program promotes preservation and restoration of biotic diversity, natural community structure and landscape appearance in order to best simulate conditions before such became altered by European influence.

Our highest priority for removal of invasive is based on their level of impact on the natural environment, with initial treatment targeted to Category I and II designated species.  Current management efforts target all Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council's (FLEPPC) Category I and II plant species for treatment.

Please feel free to call me if you have any questions.

Thank you for reaching out and for your continued support of our Florida State Parks.

Ernie

 

Basically, the FLEPPC list determines which plants are targeted for control.

https://floridainvasivespecies.org/plantlist.cfm

The FLEPPC list defines the two categories of invasive pest plants as:

CATEGORY I

Invasive exotics that are altering native plant communities by displacing native species, changing community structures or ecological functions, or hybridizing with natives. This definition does not rely on the economic severity or geographic range of the problem, but on the documented ecological damage caused.

CATEGORY II

Invasive exotics that have increased in abundance or frequency but have not yet altered Florida plant communities to the extent shown by Category 1 species. These species may become Category 1 if ecological damage is demonstrated.

The categories only seem to determine the priority in which they are dealt with. It appears that all plants on the list will be targeted eventually if possible.

I found seven palms on the list, all in Category II:

  • Chamaedorea seifrizii
  • Cocos nucifera
  • Livistona chinensis
  • Phoenix reclinata
  • Ptychosperma elegans
  • Syagrus romanzoffiana
  • Washingtonia robusta

The list gets updated every two years. You can find links on the website to previous year's lists but some of the links are dead so there is a gap. Cocos nucifera was added to the list sometime between 2005 and 2013.

They have been working to remove invasive plants in Florida parks for decades. About 15 years ago Mizell-Johnson Park had huge stands of Australian pines successfully removed. Many park goers were upset because they provided sun and wind protection. I like it better now in a more natural state as the pines were truly awful in many ways. They spread quickly and form a mono-culture. I don't think anything will grow beneath them besides sand spurs. I am generally in favor of controlling the highly invasive species like these.

But the coconuts? Really? I don't know how anybody could say they were invasive. In this park they weren't crowding out, displacing or taking away from any other plants. They were beneficial in many ways. While they were not uncommon in the park they were hardly a dominant species and mostly grew randomly in the dune areas.  Plenty of other arguments have already been brought up in this thread.

Sadly, there seems to be no place for nuance in making the determinations. There seems to be no place for weighing whether or not any harm is really being caused. It's either good or bad, nothing in between. The only thing that counts is to make the place like it was before 1492.

I do wonder how this plays out in other Florida State Parks. I can think of several that have coconut palms as a feature that were planted intentionally and not just growing by the mere happenstance of washing up on the beach. One park has a long walkway lined with tall coconuts. The last time I was there maybe five years ago you could see the tetracycline injector devices stuck in all the trunks used to treat them for Lethal Yellowing. Will they (or have they already?) cut down the palms that they were just recently working hard to save? If exceptions are made for those palms then exceptions certainly could have been made for the harmless coconuts of Mizell-Johnson park.

On a slight tangent, imagine the field workers charged with identifying the exotic plants to be terminated. They are examining a palm trying to establish its identity. "Man, I dunno. I don't think that's a pure reclinata. It sure looks like it's got a bit of canariensis in it and maybe a little roebelenii too. I say we let it slide."

Edited by Valhallalla
Same as it ever was...
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D Palm
3 hours ago, Scott W said:

Yeah, the discussion about Florida eradicating non-native plants came up a while back, and palms trees were a specific topic in many articles, in particular because they don't "sequester carbon and fight climate change".... 

As Eric said above....you want to fight climate change ...stop clear cutting forests by the thousands of acres.

But yeah, huge waste of resources to do this, especially in a state park and even more so when it no doubt destroyed other creatures habitat.  

In my area they are clear cutting forest loaded with mostly GA slash Pines and Saw Palmettos and install Solar Panels…to save the climate? Homes facilities, I understand…but 100’s of acres gone for solar farms…smh.

I was at Maximo Park last month and noticed only Native species.

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Frond-friend42

Yay! I love to hear about causuaria equisetafolia (ironwoods/Australian pines) getting killed. What a blight that stuff is. 

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Silas_Sancona
14 minutes ago, Valhallalla said:

Some good discussion on a topic that will always be controversial. Lots of food for thought.

On Monday I spoke on the phone with Ernie Cowan, Biologist (Environmental Specialist III) for District 5 Florida State Parks overseeing 25 parks from Fort Pierce to Key West. It was a cordial conversation and while I still may not agree with the policy it gave me a better understanding of some of the process. I thank him for taking the time to hear me out and explain stuff to me. Mr. Cowan followed up with an email that sums up what he conveyed to me better than I could so I'll just paste it here:

 

I enjoyed speaking to you about our invasive species removal program and specifically about the coconut palms (Cocos nucifera) at Mizell-Johnson.  I have attached the current FLEPPC List of invasive Exotic Plants and a link to their website.  The website explains the process of listing and more information on the species listed.  Note that they have changed their name to Florida Invasive Species Council (FISC).
https://floridainvasivespecies.org

The Division of Recreation and Parks conducts a natural systems management program which serves to maintain or restore, to the greatest extent possible, the function of natural processes and ecological systems on lands under its jurisdiction. Such a program promotes preservation and restoration of biotic diversity, natural community structure and landscape appearance in order to best simulate conditions before such became altered by European influence.

Our highest priority for removal of invasive is based on their level of impact on the natural environment, with initial treatment targeted to Category I and II designated species.  Current management efforts target all Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council's (FLEPPC) Category I and II plant species for treatment.

Please feel free to call me if you have any questions.

Thank you for reaching out and for your continued support of our Florida State Parks.

Ernie

 

Basically, the FLEPPC list determines which plants are targeted for control.

https://floridainvasivespecies.org/plantlist.cfm

The FLEPPC list defines the two categories of invasive pest plants as:

CATEGORY I

Invasive exotics that are altering native plant communities by displacing native species, changing community structures or ecological functions, or hybridizing with natives. This definition does not rely on the economic severity or geographic range of the problem, but on the documented ecological damage caused.

CATEGORY II

Invasive exotics that have increased in abundance or frequency but have not yet altered Florida plant communities to the extent shown by Category 1 species. These species may become Category 1 if ecological damage is demonstrated.

The categories only seem to determine the priority in which they are dealt with. It appears that all plants on the list will be targeted eventually if possible.

I found seven palms on the list, all in Category II:

  • Chamaedorea seifrizii
  • Cocos nucifera
  • Livistona chinensis
  • Phoenix reclinata
  • Ptychosperma elegans
  • Syagrus romanzoffiana
  • Washingtonia robusta

The list gets updated every two years. You can find links on the website to previous year's lists but some of the links are dead so there is a gap. Cocos nucifera was added to the list sometime between 2005 and 2013.

They have been working to remove invasive plants in Florida parks for decades. About 15 years ago Mizell-Johnson Park had huge stands of Australian pines successfully removed. Many park goers were upset because they provided sun and wind protection. I like it better now in a more natural state as the pines were truly awful in many ways. They spread quickly and form a mono-culture. I don't think anything will grow beneath them besides sand spurs. I am generally in favor of controlling the highly invasive species like these.

But the coconuts? Really? I don't know how anybody could say they were invasive. In this park they weren't crowding out, displacing or taking away from any other plants. They were beneficial in many ways. While they were not uncommon in the park they were hardly a dominant species and mostly grew randomly in the dune areas.  Plenty of other arguments have already been brought up in this thread.

Sadly, there seems to be no place for nuance in making the determinations. There seems to be no place for weighing whether or not any harm is really being caused. It's either good or bad, nothing in between. The only thing that counts is to make the place like it was before 1492.

I do wonder how this plays out in other Florida State Parks. I can think of several that have coconut palms as a feature that were planted intentionally and not just growing by the mere happenstance of washing up on the beach. One park has a long walkway lined with tall coconuts. The last time I was there maybe five years ago you could see the tetracycline injector devices stuck in all the trunks used to treat them for Lethal Yellowing. Will they (or have they already?) cut down the palms that they were just recently working hard to save? If exceptions are made for those palms then exceptions certainly could have been made for the harmless coconuts of Mizell-Johnson park.

On a slight tangent, imagine the field workers charged with identifying the exotic plants to be terminated. They are examining a palm trying to establish its identity. "Man, I dunno. I don't think that's a pure reclinata. It sure looks like it's got a bit of canariensis in it and maybe a little roebelenii too. I say we let it slide."

In some ways, this sounds like something that was a major thorn in the side of ..pretty much every local native plant / conservation - based organization here in AZ.. Essentially, the invasive sp. list here listed all Ipomoea sp. ( Morning Glories ) as " invasive " ..in need of being removed any time and anywhere encountered.. This included every native sp. here, some of which are rare / threatened.. 
At the same time, if you walked into X BB store, you could find the nasty " Blue Dawn " Morning Glory for sale in  the " vines " section.  While originating in this hemisphere ( South America, more specifically ) that sp. is extremely invasive.. Have personally delt w/ trying to gain control of the stuff after it had become a nightmare.. Can definitely see how species like this, and other sp. that didn't originate from this part of the world, such as Field Bindweed ( Native of Europe and Asia )  should be banned and eradicated.  Anyway..

Recently, after pretty serious blowback, all native Morning Glories, and some of the better behaved bush/ tree types ( typically from next door Mexico ) were de- listed. This includes a spectacular and uncommon sp. from far S. AZ. 


 Desert Cotton ( Gossypium thurberi ) another AZ/ Sonoran Desert region native, was also subject to a similar " level of ignorance " from such authorities when a campaign was launched to try and eradicate every plant because of the supposed threat it posed to cultivated cotton ( Was assumed it was a host for certain beetles that can feed on / damage Cotton bolls.. Turned out it wasn't. ) It is now listed as threatened.. But is grown by almost everyone.  On a similar note, Remember in FL. i'd been told you could get into trouble for even possessing seed of the native cotton sp. there. I laughed and collected seed ( Come 'n get me, lol ) .

Essentially, i think there are times when such authorities rush to judgement and don't really look at the broader picture before they pursue such listing of species .. that " Terry Tunnel Vision " view of things.. Can see cutting down any and all not native to / evolved on this side of the world things like certain Phoenix, Chinese Fans, etc.. in natural areas..  But, again, i want to see miles deep worth of concrete evidence Coconuts haven't been part of Florida's ..and the overall region's native flora for 10's of thousands of years ..BEFORE i would accept it being listed as an invasive there..

I'd keep track of the people who run for such positions and only back those who demonstrate a wide and deep knowledge of ecology and it's role in determining what constitutes as native ( would include anything that would be native within the Caribbean basin there ), and what is an actual " invasive " ( would be things from other continents, that did not evolve on this side of the world )  Weird how they would be ok w/ :sick: Crape Myrtle as a shade tree option, and promote more use of " native " trees.  Get rid of those, not Coconuts.

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Xenon

Here's a cool IPS article about the introduction of coconuts to the Americas, specifically the Pacific coast: https://palms.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/vol56n2p72-77.pdf

Other than a single (dubious?) account in southern Panama, the vast majority of the current literature links New World coconuts to the Columbian Exchange based on historical accounts, anthropological and archaeological studies, oceanography and genetic studies of modern American coconuts. Whether they are "native" or not is a matter of semantics/philosophy. 

Personally I'm in favor of more coconuts, "native" or not. But aren't we all a bit biased? :P

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WaianaeCrider
On 12/19/2021 at 6:09 PM, Valhallalla said:

Mizell-Johnson State Park in southern Broward County Florida has roughly two miles of undeveloped Atlantic Ocean barrier island beach extending from Port Everglades Inlet to just north of Dania Beach Pier. I have been visiting this park for around 35 years. As long as there has been a beach here all sorts of things have arrived on the shore floating in from near and far including seaweed, trash and the occasional square grouper. Plant seeds frequently wash up and germinate. Coconuts have always been part of the mix here sprouting and thriving on their own and sometimes being assisted by humans. Coconuts have probably grown here since well before south Florida was developed.

It has recently been decided that all the coconut palms must be eliminated from the park. For the last few weeks there has been cutting and chopping of hundreds of palms many of them several decades old. The coconuts have been singled out because they are not native.

This is all part of the misguided campaign to rid all the state parks of any and all exotic species regardless of whether or not they are problematic. This mandate comes down from the ignorant bureaucracy in Tallahassee. I was told that apparently the previous park manager had resisted the push to cut down the coconuts but there is now a new manager who has acquiesced.

In my opinion this is a ridiculous waste of resources. It does nothing beneficial but instead actually reduces the beauty and usefulness of the park. I wish people could move on from the flawed line of thinking that all exotics are always bad and all natives are always good. That is simply not true.

Not to get to political, but...call your Governor"s office.  Sounds like something liberal Democrats would do.

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miamicuse

I wonder if this invasive species removal program is also making it's way into building codes and permitting.

For a long time there has been an invasive species list that home owners are not allowed to plant, that same list is also used for tree removal (trees on that list may be removed without a tree removal permit).

I am in the city of Fort Lauderdale, and last year I applied for a fence permit in an attempt to replace the aging, leaning 6' tall privacy fence in my back yard.  The city informed me that because my back yard is also street facing, they are subject to new codes which dictates that I lower it's height to 4' maximum, move the fence from my property line inward a minimum of three feet.  Now to move the fence three feet back the new fence will be sitting over the centerline of over a dozen mature trees and palms - which they don't care.  It also means any pedestrians walking along the outside of my back yard can see into my swimming pool - again they don't care.

So I asked them, if I move my fence back 3 feet, what do I do with the three foot space between the property line and new fence?  They said I can plant something. and they showed me a list of acceptable hedges and ground covers.  It is a single page of a plant list, to be planted every 24" apart.  This is the first time I saw a list of "acceptable Florida friendly plants" instead of a "prohibited invasive plant list".  You can't plant anything outside of this list.  They also told me don't think about using the plants to provide additional privacy, as they will be requiring the home owners to maintain the planted hedges to not exceed the height of the fence behind it or it will be a code violation.

I think it is inevitable in time all street facing fences in my city will have nothing but Simpson stopper, Jasmine caper and Buttonwood lining them.

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WaianaeCrider
4 hours ago, miamicuse said:

I wonder if this invasive species removal program is also making it's way into building codes and permitting.

For a long time there has been an invasive species list that home owners are not allowed to plant, that same list is also used for tree removal (trees on that list may be removed without a tree removal permit).

I am in the city of Fort Lauderdale, and last year I applied for a fence permit in an attempt to replace the aging, leaning 6' tall privacy fence in my back yard.  The city informed me that because my back yard is also street facing, they are subject to new codes which dictates that I lower it's height to 4' maximum, move the fence from my property line inward a minimum of three feet.  Now to move the fence three feet back the new fence will be sitting over the centerline of over a dozen mature trees and palms - which they don't care.  It also means any pedestrians walking along the outside of my back yard can see into my swimming pool - again they don't care.

So I asked them, if I move my fence back 3 feet, what do I do with the three foot space between the property line and new fence?  They said I can plant something. and they showed me a list of acceptable hedges and ground covers.  It is a single page of a plant list, to be planted every 24" apart.  This is the first time I saw a list of "acceptable Florida friendly plants" instead of a "prohibited invasive plant list".  You can't plant anything outside of this list.  They also told me don't think about using the plants to provide additional privacy, as they will be requiring the home owners to maintain the planted hedges to not exceed the height of the fence behind it or it will be a code violation.

I think it is inevitable in time all street facing fences in my city will have nothing but Simpson stopper, Jasmine caper and Buttonwood lining them.

Don't you just love it when some unelected bureaucrat takes 3' x ?' of your land that you pay tax on and tells you it's not y ours to use anymore but you can plant something on it that "he/she/they" say is ok?

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Ubuntwo

Very interesting thread. Coconut palms may not be “native” but they are completely harmless in the south Florida landscape. They naturalize exclusively along high tide lines in the dunes or near mangroves on the intracoastal. Most urban beach parks remove seedlings on a regular basis. From northern Palm Beach County through Martin County there are vast swaths of undeveloped coast where this is not an issue. They never form monospecific stands or crowd out native vegetation. In Seabranch State Park, mature coconut palms can be found every 50 yards or so for several miles.... don’t tell the park rangers! The odd hurricane seems to keep populations in check. 
 

Here are some in Juno Dunes natural area. D0724AC7-EA85-4891-8E80-F5CF9984CA62.thumb.jpeg.430b2d018a9b5101cbbf3395bcd4eaed.jpeg

5D45D098-1941-49E6-9377-8D4A58F64C0D.thumb.jpeg.4c4fd029b44e27ac39f0342e869749ac.jpegF973F149-F46A-4D94-8922-A8B4F3B0A3A1.thumb.jpeg.2fe5bad39e43d44856090a1351466390.jpeg

Bonus Sabal etonia... very rare in SEFL.

FDC307C3-DFA0-4EFF-A4CD-799A0EF072CA.thumb.jpeg.22388053acc5ee6cd5ba59af82d6ecd8.jpeg

By the way, this is the last coastal scrub in all of Florida... all thanks to the invasive ‘Homo sapiens’...

DD6D622F-373A-4D99-8040-EFF1180F7296.thumb.jpeg.dc936fa10d4c23d13b6a447da46fd64b.jpeg

Edited by Ubuntwo
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Jimbean

This was taken on a beach sand dune about a mile south of Melbourne Beach. 

20211010_173917_HDR.jpg

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Valhallalla
17 hours ago, WaianaeCrider said:

Not to get to political, but...call your Governor"s office.  Sounds like something liberal Democrats would do.

The best way to not get too political is to simply shut up and not get political at all.

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Steve the palmreader

I hope they dont start doing this on private property

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miamicuse
1 hour ago, Steve the palmreader said:

I hope they dont start doing this on private property

In my earlier post I mentioned the same, except in my case, I do believe they are beginning to do this to private properties, now I am not saying they are coming inside your property to cut down non-native plants, but at least in my city they are including a "Florida friendly plant list" as the plants they will accept when doing new plantings on the setback to fences.  This is a significant change from a previously "prohibited" list to a list of all they will accept.

Obviously if you don't file for a permit or you have existing plantings you are grandfathered in, until you have to make major landscaping changes then you have to bring everything into compliance then there will be a unpleasant surprise for everyone.  I imagine a nasty hurricane sweeping through Florida knocking down a lot of old fences, then everyone needing their fences repaired, and when they apply for a permit they realize they need to lower the height of the new fence, move it back three feet, and be forced to plant something every 24" in front of the fence using plants not of their choices but dictated by the city.

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Steve the palmreader
1 hour ago, miamicuse said:

In my earlier post I mentioned the same, except in my case, I do believe they are beginning to do this to private properties, now I am not saying they are coming inside your property to cut down non-native plants, but at least in my city they are including a "Florida friendly plant list" as the plants they will accept when doing new plantings on the setback to fences.  This is a significant change from a previously "prohibited" list to a list of all they will accept.

Obviously if you don't file for a permit or you have existing plantings you are grandfathered in, until you have to make major landscaping changes then you have to bring everything into compliance then there will be a unpleasant surprise for everyone.  I imagine a nasty hurricane sweeping through Florida knocking down a lot of old fences, then everyone needing their fences repaired, and when they apply for a permit they realize they need to lower the height of the new fence, move it back three feet, and be forced to plant something every 24" in front of the fence using plants not of their choices but dictated by the city.

I think that happened in Sanibel after Hurricane Charley

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ruskinPalms
4 hours ago, miamicuse said:

In my earlier post I mentioned the same, except in my case, I do believe they are beginning to do this to private properties, now I am not saying they are coming inside your property to cut down non-native plants, but at least in my city they are including a "Florida friendly plant list" as the plants they will accept when doing new plantings on the setback to fences.  This is a significant change from a previously "prohibited" list to a list of all they will accept.

Obviously if you don't file for a permit or you have existing plantings you are grandfathered in, until you have to make major landscaping changes then you have to bring everything into compliance then there will be a unpleasant surprise for everyone.  I imagine a nasty hurricane sweeping through Florida knocking down a lot of old fences, then everyone needing their fences repaired, and when they apply for a permit they realize they need to lower the height of the new fence, move it back three feet, and be forced to plant something every 24" in front of the fence using plants not of their choices but dictated by the city.

That sounds as bad as any HOA. Used to be staying out of HOA communities gave one more freedom…

Edited by ruskinPalms
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ruskinPalms

I think it is sad they are cutting down the coconuts. I feel like if they did indeed naturalize there and they are not creating a monoculture or are not having a verifiable, researched negative effect on the local ecosystem there then they should be allowed to stay. Really, how many years do we have to go back before we allow things to be considered native to an area? Were coconuts in the in the Caribbean basin before 1492? Even if not and were introduced by Europeans, how many centuries of naturalization does it take before we can say yeah, they’re native? Like has been mentioned in this post and in others on here, even “indigenous” people migrated here from other places. Where is the cutoff? I think my relatives migrated to North America in the late 1800s to early 1900s from Italy and Ireland. Am I invasive? Should I be cut down?

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DreaminAboutPalms

This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard. Florida with only "native plants" would look absolutely hideous

Run into it all the time in Texas and why is it that most of the time these "I oNLy pLaNt nAtIvE sPeCiEs" People ALWAYS have  Japanese maples or other non native plants?

Thinking that the clown who authorized this probably had a coconut fall on his head and now he hates them with a vengeance

 

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Jimbean

Caught these today walking along Indialantic Beach.

 

 

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Ubuntwo

In Florida state parks, coconut palms are generally treated as invasive exotics, with a few exceptions. bahiahonda.PNG.5b92ab8e971697cdeec26614b9c3ab0a.PNG

bahiahondamonoculture.PNG.85cea4045a2259cc3e5cf784f66a1d6c.PNG

longkey.PNG.de5bddb935d4e30cbcc45260cb861437.PNG

This is from the Fort Zachary Taylor State Park management plan. "A.P" = Australian Pines. Apparently, some residents like the 'unique feel' they create :sick: I like this alternate proposal.

 zachary1.PNG.64d1f273fe030bf2e7be31ac3dcab189.PNG

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Jimbean

Reading this made me think of this thread:

"This species is considered native to the state, but is certainly introduced in many areas. Seeds of papaya dated to around the year 300 AD were found in Lee Co. (Ward 2011). Papapya is widely cultivated in Florida and certainly has escaped and naturalized from some of these cultivated strains. Small-fruited specimens of coastal and southern Florida (e.g. Franck 2615, Judd 5970 [FLAS]) may represent native forms (Ward 2011)."

https://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/Plant.aspx?id=1699&display=photos

I remember that papaya trees had been routinely cut down because they were considered non-native.  Papaya trees are very well established (non-invasive)  in some parts of the Indian River Lagoon and the county still cuts them down. 

 

Edited by Jimbean
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teddytn

Here’s a good tie in imo. There’s 4 plants that I’ve seen flowering at my house right now. Crocus, daffodils, violets, and Japanese cherry blossom tree. The cherry blossom is a reliable early bloomer covered in flowers, nothing new, common flowering tree in the States. Noticed it had a ton of bees hitting it the past week. Using a non native flowering tree to help support the local bee population made me think of this thread. Species of plants that are aggressive and can outcompete regionally native species should be the concern here. Not natural or human intervention biodiversity. 

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