Weeds of Wednesday: Once There Was One in Every Yard

Queensland umbrella tree (Schefflera actinophylla), once upon a time, seemed to be planted in every new local Florida landscape for the exotic, tropical appearance of its large, shiny palmately compound leaves. Most frequently, this easy-to-grow tree that reaches more 25’+ tall was planted beneath the eaves right next to the house foundation. Also known as octopus tree and just plain schefflera, it came to be notorious for its roots which have been known to crack the concrete foundations of homes and pools.

Schefflera no longer is a favored by the landscape and nursery industries and has been characterized as a Category #1 invasive pest plant by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council. The UF/IFAS assessment of non-native plants in natural areas finds this plant to be invasive in south and central Florida and recommends against its use in the landscape. In north Florida, schefflera succumbs to freezing temperatures.

Like many exotic plants that have turned out to be invasive pests, schefflera tolerates a wide variety of conditions, though not cold. It has invaded a variety of habitats from Brevard County southward including sand pine scrub, pine flatwoods, hammock, cypress strands, and disturbed areas. Birds spread its seeds widely, including native birds like mockingbirds and fish crow, as well as exotic birds like starlings and parrots.

The top photo and the photo below were taken at the North Sebastian Conservation Area,, a 407-acre conservation located in northern Indian River County Likely, the small plant below is the bird-borne progeny of the nearby large individual.

Schefflera does not flower and fruit until it is 10 to 15 years old and substantially sized. Its 3′ stiff terminal clusters of reddish flowers are quite striking and tropical in appearance.

Schefflera is difficult to kill. The photo above comes from a plant that someone tried, unsuccessfully, to whack down …

… only to have it grow back with a floral vengeance …

As with many tropical plants, flowering sometimes occurs twice per year in the spring and early fall. The plant shown above is currently flowering.

Full sun or deep hammock shade are suitable to schefflera. The lanky schefflera shown below in 2012 at the Indian River Lagoon Greenway in 2012 is reaching for the sun from the shade of a live oak (Quercus virginiana) canopy.

Schefflera is difficult to kill even with herbicide. It is best pulled when it is a small seedling.

Seedlings often look different then their adult counterparts just as with people. Check out this schefflera seedling that has volunteered next to a live oak in a shady spot in a CVS parking lot …

You will find volunteer seedlings in the hammock areas at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area. The one below that was growing in a small sunny spot in the midst of wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera), braken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) and saw palmetto (Serenoa repens). Note that it is lighter in color due to sunnier conditions.

Allan McCarthy from the Institute for Regional Conservation (IRC) happily dispatched this schefflera seedling on May 21, 2017 “fun” walk not in if “official capacity”. IRC was the contractor hired by Indian River County with upland invasive plant control funds from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to work at ORCA and Captain Forster Preserve last year.

Take note of the palmately compound leaves. Please pluck up any schefflera seedings at ORCA, in our conservation areas, or in your yard — only if you are sure of your ID, of course. Look for the palmately compound leaves that will be darker in color in shadier locales.

Weeds of Wednesday: A Tale of 2 Leaves

The nightshade family, Solanaceae, is quite diverse and includes many economically important plants — that we love or hate — such as tomatoes, eggplants, tobacco, bell peppers, chili peppers, potatoes, and petunias. Members of this plant family are found on every continent except Antartica.

The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council list for 2017 includes 4 species of solanum. Two are category 1 species that are known to disrupt natural systems: Wetland solanum (Solanum tampicense) and tropical soda apple (Solanum viarum). Two are category 2 species: Turkeyberry (Solanum torvum) and two-leaf nightshade (Solanum diphyllum).

Only two-leaf nightshade is found at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area (ORCA), fortunately.

It is easy to see why this plant is commonly called two-leaf solanum with its large elliptical leaves coupled with much smaller ovate to obovate (roundish) leaves. The species name, diphyllum, translates to 2 (di) leaves (phylum). Twin-leaf solanum is another common name for this plant.

Fruiting occurs throughout the entire year. When ripe, the globose fruits of this shrub or small tree (to 6′) are about 1/2″ in diameter and golden orange in color …

Each fruit is filled with many tiny white seeds. 75% to 85% of the seeds germinated in experiments, and seeds can remain viable in the soil for more than 2 years.

Twin-leaf solanum is native to Mexico and Central America, where it is commonly called amatillo. In the early 1960’s, it began to appear in hedges in the Miami area and was reportedly widespread by 1967. Tropical in origin, it will die back to the ground when temperatures hover near freezing but, unfortunately, will quickly re-sprout from its roots.

Substantial patches of only two-leaf solanum can be found in moist, shady hammocks along the Sebastian River. At ORCA, it frequently occurs along the trails where disturbance has allowed it to get a foothold. This plant grows in full sun or substantial shade.

Frugivorous birds and small mammals including raccoons eat the fruits and distribute the seeds. You might find this pretty but poisonous plant volunteering in your yard, and it is best to pluck it out when you see the seedlings with distinctive two-sized leaves.

Even very young seedlings have the distinctive 2-sized leaves, as shown below in this bevy of seedlings photographed at the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory.

Yes, it flowers look like the flowers you see on the related plants, like tomatoes and peppers, that you might grow in your yard …

Throwback to 2005

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Sister storms — Hurricane Frances (9-5-2004) and Hurricane Jeanne (9-26-2004) — devastated the canopy at the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area, shown above and below at the beginning of 2005.
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Volunteers worked diligently to respond to the surge in vines and invasive pest plants wrought by the increased sunlight, including Martha Willoughby & Dick Atkinson …
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… John Kennedy, Marta Kendrick, Joel Day & Peter Sutherland …
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… Tom Keen, Marta Kendrick, Peter Sutherland & John Kennedy …
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… Sharon Millington, John Kennedy, Marta Kendrick & Sue Richardson …
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… Sharon Millington, Janice Broda & Alice Rowe …
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… Peter Sutherland, Sharon Millington & Steve Goff  …
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Peter Sutherland admirably “models” how much caesarweed (Urena lobata) proliferated …
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Many thanks to these veteran volunteers who saw to it that the invasive plants were not left unchecked.

Karen Schuster gets proclamation!

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Karen Schuster, on behalf of the volunteers trained by the Florida Medical Entomology Laboratory and the Pelican Island Audubon Society, poses with Sebastian Mayor Richard Gilmour after receiving a proclamation in support of national invasive species awareness week, February 22 – 28, 2015. Council member Andrea Coy facilitated the proclamation which was read by Mayor Gilmour …

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And then Karen said a few words about what the volunteers had accomplished …

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