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Pest Plant Removal to Benefit the Indian River Lagoon

Post Date:05/06/2016 11:03 AM

Parks employees cleaning up property along the Indian River Lagoon and US 1 in early May 2016. 

Yesterday, City of Melbourne Parks staff completed beautification enhancement work along a 2-mile tract of riverfront property on U.S. 1 between Bon Air Avenue and Laurie Street. The Parks crew spent two days on the site where they trimmed trees, removed trash and tackled infestations of two of the worst nonnative pest plants in Florida: Brazilian pepper trees and cogon grass.

Scientists consider both Brazilian pepper trees and cogon grass to be among the most damaging and difficult-to-control invasive plants in the Southeast.

Brazilian pepper trees are related to poison oak and poison ivy. They form dense thickets that shade out all other plants below their branches.

Cogon grass grows in thick mats that are difficult to remove because of the plants’ deep roots and rhizomes that inhibit the growth of all other plants. Cogon grass also contains highly flammable volatile compounds that can exacerbate wildfires.

“Brazilian pepper and cogon grass are at odds with native plants because they have no natural predators or parasites to limit their development,” said Steve Graham, Certified Arborist/Parks Manager for the City of Melbourne. “Consequently, they grow into healthy, aggressive swaths of alien vegetation that usurp the space and soil where ecologically functional native plants would otherwise grow.”

Where these invasive species have been controlled along the lagoon, native plants such as railroad vine, gopher apple, necklace pod and native bunch grasses have begun to thrive. “These native plants are well-adapted to the sandy, dry and infertile soils that slope to the lagoon, growing in concert with the prevailing climate and soil,” Graham said. “Over time they create a more stable ecosystem that is better capable of filtering pollution from stormwater runoff.”

In addition to invasive plant removal on city-owned properties, the City of Melbourne is working on numerous projects to help improve the health of the Indian River Lagoon, including muck removal, construction of stormwater treatment systems, street sweeping, and homeowner education and outreach.

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