Seriously, don't plant these …
By Lynette L. Walther
Back in the spring, as temperatures really started to heat up, the long and glossy tendrils of my garden nemesis — air potatoes — started to rise up, most surely straight from the pits of Hell. Anyone who has ever been bedeviled with this invasive exotic knows it is almost impossible to eradicate.
Yeah, sure it has lovely heart-shaped leaves and pure-white morningglory- like flowers, but beneath that beauty beats the cold heart of one of the most diabolical weeds ever to find its way into my life. Those vines — which you can almost watch grow — work their way through and around anything in their path.
Once they do that and start blooming, the game is up. Air potatoes, Bulbifera discifolia, produce a lusty crop of “potatoes” along the length of their vines. The sneaky things can be anything from the size of a bb to that of a baking potato, and they look like potatoes, too.
But that's where the similarity ends. They aren't edible by man nor beast – at least nothing that inhabits this corner of the earth. They are often introduced by squirrels “planting” them. Why, I don't know, because squirrels do not eat them. But they do like to plant them, which is no doubt how they found their way into my flower beds and potted plants. Any disturbance of the vine will cause it to immediately drop its crop. Just like that! Boom!
Thousands of air potatoes now call your yard home and settle in like unwelcome house guests spreading over, rapidly covering anything in their path.
And once those tubers hit the ground — they don't even have to be buried.
They promptly put out roots and start to grow.
And while it seems almost impossible that they could get worse from that point, that's just where their deviousness begins.
Whether it is a bb or a baking potato-size, once that tuber drops from the vine, it grows and grows and grows. The roots are See PLANT, C2
I want to yell, to cry out loud — for the love of god, STOP! You know not what you do!
Firespike comes in various colors, red to lavender, and spreads rapidly.
Cashmere bouquet produces fragrant clusters of attractive pink blooms.
Air potato is an invasive exotic vine, a noxious weed that grows quickly and spreads like wildfire. [PHOTOS BY LYNETTE L. WALTHER/ CORRESPONDENT]
Mexican petunia is a Category 1 invasive to avoid.
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contractile, which means they pull the tuber deeper and deeper into the ground as it grows in size, making it more and more difficult to remove as each day passes. Yank up the root — but the tuber stays en situ — lurking and ready to sprout another vine which will produce more tubers which will — well you get the picture. Insects that feed on the vines have been released to help deal with this pest. In my experience, their impact has been minimal at best.
Certainly, it is hard enough dealing with the real weeds that no one should be putting themself through even more work and consternation by planting a number of commonly found plants, many of which can even be purchased at garden centers and nurseries. But people do it all the time and I literally have to bite my tongue whenever I am in a garden center and spy some unsuspecting sap selecting a pot of Mexican petunia. I want to yell, to cry out loud — for the love of god, STOP! You know not what you do!
But I do know what those Mephistophelean plants can do. Speaking from personal experience after I accepted a start of those pretty little purple/blue blooming Mexican petunias (Ruellia simplex) at a perennial exchange decades ago, I am still battling those insatiable plants. To rid your garden of this interloper, you will need to remove every last scrap of roots. Leave a smidgeon of a single root, and you'll have an entire new colony of these horrible plants in no time flat.
Seriously, and they are not easy to remove.
However Mexican petunias aren't the only garden mistake lurking out there. Here's a list of loathsome plants to avoid at all costs.
Many, like the calico flower vine or the fragrant cashmere bouquet, are deceptively attractive. But all are as rapacious as are the dreaded air potato vines, and all of them spread like a bad rash.
Some of these plants are included on state lists of invasive exotics, and thankfully cannot be found for sale.
Beware if they show up at a plant exchange or are offered to you.
And if you insist on growing any of these, I would suggest they be confined to sturdy pots or containers.
Once they settle in and find a home with you, they are just about impossible to evict.
Consider yourself warned, these are some of the worst garden offenders:
• Mexican petunia (Ruellia simplex) • Snake plant, mother-in-law tongue (Sansevieria)
• Firespike (Odontonema Strictum)
• Sword ferns (Nephrolepis cordifolia)
• Giant reed (Arundo donax L.)
• Calico flower (Aristolochia littoralis)
• Cashmere bouquet (Clerodendrum bungei) Lynette L. Walther is the GardenComm Gold medal winner for writing and a five-time recipient of the GardenComm Silver Medal of Achievement and the National Garden Bureau's Exemplary Journalism Award. She is the author of “Florida Gardening on the Go,” and her gardens are on the banks of the St. Johns River.