Despite the title, it’s not some campy summer flick about a mutant strain of potato that attacks a city..Although, it’s not very far off.
Dioscorea bulbifera aka the air potato was introduced to Florida in 1905 from Africa and was cited as one of the most noxious Florida weeds in 1993, thus earning it an official spot on the Invasive Species list in 1999. I wonder what took so long??
There is absolutely nothing redeeming about this plant. To call it an ecological nightmare is an understatement. At a growth rate of up to 8 inches per day, if left unchecked it will spread like wildfire, choking out native species and potentially even harming your trees.
I’ve been doing battle with them for years. They die back in the winter and then return with a vengeance in the summer, reaching their nasty tentacles up and up until they tangle themselves around anything they’re near. Every couple of weeks, I’ll go on a campaign with my machete to get rid of any new growth, but it’s tough keeping ahead them. Thinking about putting the girls to work and paying them a dime for every potato they collect..Hmm, I might be on to something..
Besides manual efforts, UF/IFAS now has a biological control solution for eliminating the air potato. If you have a problem, these are the folks to go to. A few weeks back I put in my application for the air potato beetle and just got an email the other day that they are shipping my beetles this week. Hooray!!
Basically, Lilioceris cheni AKA, the air potato beetle, was discovered as a natural enemy to the air potato in Asia and are now being raised in Florida. It only eats the air potato leaves and once they’re gone they’ll die out. It’s pretty neat to think that nature created it’s own way to deal with the problem.
If you have an air potato problem, go here and complete the request form. These guys are responsive and will quickly get back to you. I’ll post some pictures of the release along with a before and after of the progress.