Brazilian pepper trees (Schinus terebinthifolius) are native to South America and were originally brought into Florida in the mid-1800 for use as an ornamental plant. Its bright red berries and brilliant green foliage are frequently used as Christmas decorations and earned the shrub/tree the name of “Florida Holly”. Wildlife find the berries especially tasty which has helped this species become one of the most aggressive and wide-spread exotic pest plants in the State of Florida. Brazilian pepper trees can invade aquatic as well as terrestrial habitats and produce a dense canopy that shades out all other plants and provides a very poor habitat for native species. Brazilian pepper has an aromatic sap that can cause skin reactions in people sensitive to poison ivy, burning the wood can cause nasal distress. However, the berries have a delicate peppery taste and are frequently marketed as pink peppercorns.
Australian pine trees (Casuarina spp.) are native to Australia and were introduced to Florida in the late 1800’s as a method of beach erosion control. Not a true pine, this tree grows quickly and produces a chemical that inhibits other species of plants from growing around their shallow root systems. Their ability to grow and populate an area quickly has replaced the normal ecosystem of plants and animals that usually inhibit beaches and marsh lands. Fast growth makes their bark brittle and easily broken under pressure, and they are highly flammable and susceptible to uprooting.
Air potato (Dioscorea bulbifera) is native to Asia and was first introduced to Florida in 1905 as an ornamental vine with large heart shaped leaves and aerial tubers or “air potatoes”. A member of the yam family, air potato grows fast and can form a solid canopy cutting off light to plants below and smothering plants around it. It can change entire plant communities, decrease wildlife habitat, and disrupt the natural flow of water and fire.