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Published on May 4, 2021

EXOTIC - To Be or Not To Be...

The word exotic can conjure up remote beautiful islands with blue waters and cloudless skies... where the smell of coconut floats through the air ---- but if you are talking to a Land Manager anywhere in Florida, it's likely that the word exotic has a different connotation! So while we can dream of beachy days, mountain hikes in the "exotic" forests of some lush and densely vegetated wonderland, exotic species in Florida are a big problem!  

So what is an exotic plant species and why is this a dreaded management issue for Florida land managers?  First of all exotic plant species simply refers to a plant that does not belong here - or a plant that is not native to the area.  We generally couple that term with "invasive" meaning that the plant actively invades natural areas.  So, let's dive deeper:

Exotic …. Means a plant species that is not naturally found in the environment where it is growing

And

Invasive … which are plants that grow aggressively outcompeting native plants without any factor keeping them in check.

You can actually have invasive native plant species --- and you can have exotic plant species that don’t become invasive!  (We call those ornamental - and they can generally be used safely in landscapes.)

So what's the big problem anyway?  Because invasive exotic plant species have no natural predators and things native to their environment to inhibit or restrict growth, they can quickly grow out of control. These exotic plant species are a problem in Florida accounting for over $30 million dollars of taxpayer funds spent annually on invasive plant management on waterways and natural areas.

Some invasive plant species were brought to Florida intentionally by people for decorative and ornamental value, while some were brought in to address erosion concerns… others were brought in as cattle forage.  At the time, these species were thought to solve problems... not to create them!  Invasive exotic species are defined and ranked by their ability to outgrown native species and their ability to alter or change natural ecosystems.  The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council creates and updates a listing of exotic species in Florida and the managers go through a painstaking process to review and create a ranked list of these species.  For more information you can research the FLEPPC site at fleppc.org.

If you want more information on Indian River County's Top Ten Invasive Plant Species - click here!  (Check out our other articles about specific invasive exotic plants species you might encounter on your hike or throughout your Florida journeys.)