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Air Potato

Air potato Florida brown tuber

Dioscorea bulbifera                                                 Photo Fiona Sunquist ©

Air potatoes were brought to Florida in 1905 and promoted as an attractive garden plant—their heart shaped leaves, prolific growth and easy maintenance made them an interesting addition to southern gardens. But besides being all of the above, air potato vines can grow up to 8 inches a day, and spread like wildfire. Their vines climb into the tree canopy, and blankets shrubs, trees, structures, and anything that gets in the way. The vines produce thousands of little bumpy tubers, or bulbils, some of which can grow as big as your hand. Invading air potatoes have become almost as big a problem in Florida as the infamous kudzu vine.

Air potato leaves Florida invasive heart shaped

                                                                                  Photo Fiona Sunquist

Once established, air potato is very difficult to get rid of. Local authorities and conservation groups organize “air potato round ups” in which volunteers collect thousands of pounds of vines and bulbils, and park authorities have resorted to spraying the vines with herbicide, but it is almost impossible to stay ahead of this prolific plant.

However there may be a biological control for the air potato plague. In 2013 scientists with the USDA began releasing hundreds of Lili beetles.

Red air potato beetle Lili beetles Florida invasive

The beetles, from Asia, feed on nothing but air potato leaves, and with luck will help control the growth of this runaway invader. Early experiments in Northern Florida seem to be promising.

Air potato leaves eaten by beetles Florida

                                                                                  Photo Fiona Sunquist






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Wildlife of Florida 2011
Wildlife of Florida 2011
Fiona Sunquist
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Wildlife of Florida: Lizards
Fiona Sunquist
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