US Army Corps of Engineers
Jacksonville District

Fight invasive species at First Coast Air Potato Roundup Feb. 25

Published Feb. 7, 2017
Invasive species biologist Jessica Spencer collects Air Potato

Jessica Spencer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers biologist, shows off air potato bulbils (tubers) collected as part of the annual Air Potato Roundup. In 2016, volunteers collected 685 pounds of air potatoes.

Air potato aerial tuber or bulbils in winter, ready to fall to the ground and sprout

Air potato aerial tuber or bulbils in winter, ready to fall to the ground and sprout. The potatoes can survive for 20 years and produce thousands of new potatoes during that time.

Each potato sprouts a new vine that can grow extremely quickly – about eight inches per day. These new air potato vines seek a way into the canopy -- the invasive vine grows to the tops of trees and smothers native plants.

Each potato sprouts a new vine that can grow extremely quickly – about eight inches per day. These new air potato vines seek a way into the canopy -- the invasive vine grows to the tops of trees and smothers native plants.

11th Annual First Coast Air Potato Roundup

11th Annual First Coast Air Potato Roundup

Biocontrols at work: tiny red air potato beetles feed on the heart shaped leaves of the invasive air potato vine.

Biocontrols at work: tiny red air potato beetles feed on the heart shaped leaves of the invasive air potato vine.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – First coast residents can fight invasive species by participating in the 11th Annual First Coast Air Potato Roundup Saturday, Feb. 25, 9 a.m. – noon in Jacksonville, Florida and the surrounding area. The Invasive Species Management Branch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District and partners at the First Coast Invasive Working Group host the event to celebrate National Invasive Species Awareness Week.

“Invasive species such as air potato smother our native plants and are one of the greatest ecological threats to natural communities in Florida,” said Jessica Spencer, Jacksonville District biologist. “The annual Air Potato Roundup is a family-friendly event where people of all ages – even little ones - can get outdoors together and make a difference. Just grab your garden gloves, some sunscreen and the kids, and head over to one of the work sites. All participants will be entered into a random drawing for great prizes.”

“This annual volunteer effort, combined with the use of a tiny biocontrol, the air potato leaf beetle, have been so successful that we can expand our efforts beyond air potato,” said Spencer. “Volunteers can now focus on other problematic species, such as kalanchoe, aptly nicknamed ‘mother of millions’ and coral ardisia, which has red berries that are spread widely by birds and small mammals.”

Air potatoes grow on vines and drop to the ground in the winter. Each potato sprouts a new vine that can grow extremely quickly – about eight inches per day. The invasive vine grows to the tops of trees and smothers native plants. The potatoes can survive for 20 years and produce thousands of new potatoes during that time. For information on backyard air potato management, visit http://1.usa.gov/1g5HyKv.

The roundup will take place at various locations in Jacksonville, Fernandina Beach, St. Augustine and Orange Park.

Work sites in Jacksonville:
-  Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens
-  Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park
-  Tree Hill Nature Center
-  Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens
-  Walter Jones Historical Park

Additional First Coast work sites:
-  Egans Creek Greenway in Fernandina Beach
- St. Johns River State College in St. Augustine
- St. Johns River State College in Orange Park

“The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will use all of the potatoes that we collect to rear air potato leaf beetles at their Gainesville biocontrol facility,” said Spencer. “The beetles have been so successful at reducing the numbers of air potatoes in Gainesville that the department is having a hard time finding enough potatoes to support the beetles at the rearing facility. By donating the air potatoes from our roundup, we will be supporting the work that they are doing to rear and release more biocontrol beetles.”

Residents and businesses can request beetles for release on their lands from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services: http://bcrcl.ifas.ufl.edu/airpotatofiles/airpotatoforms.shtml

Registration is only required for large groups. The event may count as volunteer hours by school children looking for credit.
Contact Jessica Spencer at jessica.e.spencer@usace.army.mil or 904-232-1696 if you have questions or need additional information about the event.

For more information on National Invasive Species Awareness Week, Feb. 27 through March 3, 2017, including webinars: http://www.nisaw.org/
       


Contact
Erica Skolte
561- 472-8893
561-801-5734 (cell)
Erica.A.Skolte@usace.army.mil

Release no. 17-002