The first time that I saw shoebutton ardisia (Ardisia elliptica) was in the mid-1990’s, when some Florida Department of Natural Resources biologists took me to a tributary of the St. Lucie River to identify a plentiful plant. It was shoebutton ardisia, and I was stunned by the density of the infestation, much of it growing in water. Never did I expect this plant to be a pervasive problem at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA). Tens of thousands of plants have been removed by professionals and by volunteers especially from the area between the 2 wetland crossover bridges at north ORCA and but also throughout the preserve.
Shoebutton ardisia was brought to Florida as a landscape plant in the early 1900’s for its pretty reddish new foliage, attractive flowers, and its colorful berries.
Birds and wildlife spread the very viable seeds. Underneath a mature tree you almost always will find a mess of seedlings.
The invasiveness of this plant was first evident in south Florida. In 1971 Frank Craighead wrote in his book, The Trees of South Florida: The natural environments and their succession:
Three other exotics are invading the plants associations of the area: Brazilian holly (Schinus terebinthifolius), cajeput (Melaleuca quinquenervia), and ardisia (Ardisia solanacea). The indiscriminate introduction of exotic plants needs federal regulation. None should be propagated and distributed until their propensity to reproduce naturally and invade our native environment is determined. These already here present a formidable problem in the management of Everglades National Park. The cost of control in the next few years will run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, and at that it is questionable if satisfactory suppression can be obtained.
Ardisia solanacea is an old botanical name for shoebutton ardisia.
Fast forward: A recent article in the Miami Herald chronicles continuing control efforts. The South Florida Water Management District has treated 3,600 acres.
The good news: Shoebutton ardisia is a prohibited plant on the Florida Noxious Plant List.
The bad news: There is still plenty of it in our natural areas, and control is costly.