Jason Hyde

Getting rid of air potatoes.

If you were to observe the vines and leaves of the air potato plant, you’d be right to feel you’re in the presence of a beautiful plant. And although even conservationists would agree, our native South Florida plants are suffering because of it.

There’s a lot of things we can do today that would help the environment almost instantaneously. Like avoiding the use of single use plastics (a topic we cover a lot here), shutting off the faucet when you’re not using it, unplugging electronics when you’re not using it, etc. There are also things we can do that help in the medium-long term, like composting and then there are long term measures like planting trees, raising good future citizens of the world, etc. 

In the case of planting trees and plants, we encounter a double-edged sword. Each place on earth has a set of native plants, and since we’re all practically globalized by now, we have an extensive knowledge of which plants are where, where are they originally from and how some are related and others not. So in essence, each wild setting (forests, woods, jungles, and so on) can have native plants, exotic plants and invasive plants. Gardeners, environmentalists, conservationists, plant enthusiasts, and others, would argue that exotic plants are as damaging as invasive ones, but some believe that as long as they work in symbiosis with the environment there is space for them.

Back to the air potato. This plant, although beautiful to look at, is, you guessed it, invasive. Florida has become known for being home to a series of invasive species, both plant and animal. You can find giant pythons destroying the fauna in the everglades, iguanas crawling all over the place, and air potatoes wreaking havoc in state and city parks. The air potato is a vine, so it tangles around other plants (like wild coffee) and smothers them, which makes them hard to take down. Plus, to really get rid of it, you have to snatch it from the root, and throw it in the garbage, otherwise it’ll find its way to the ecosystem again.

It’s heartbreaking because there’s not much that can be done. The parks and recreation agencies have tight budgets as it is, which is why rangers are taking matters in their own hands, and gathering neighbors to help get rid of this and other invasive plants. You can join efforts in cleaning up air potatoes the second Sunday of each month at Enchanted Forest Elaine Gordon Park, bring your bag and gloves and ask for Miss Lola. Act now, there is no time (or air) to waste.

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