The rapidly spreading beach vitex, an invasive vine native to countries in the western Pacific, is creeping down the eastern coast from the Carolinas towards Florida, impacting beach stability and endangering sea turtles.
Beach vitex made its way to the southeastern United States in the mid-1980s because of its attractiveness and perceived ability to stabilize beaches. After Hurricane Hugo, North Carolina and South Carolina beaches suffered extreme dune erosion and residents needed something to stabilize the dunes. With a lack of native vegetation at local nurseries, beach vitex was marketed as quick-growing and easy to maintain.
Although introduced to stabilize beaches, the invasive vine accomplished the opposite. It lacks the fibrous root system of native plants and is unable to trap sand adequately. Once it dies back in the winter, its exposed root systems show erosion from underneath the beach vitex, according to the Carolinas Beach Vitex Task Force.
The task force said that beach vitex is also endangering sea turtles’ lives by altering nesting areas. Hatchlings become caught in the thick vegetation and are too exhausted to reach the ocean, perishing en route.
The Carolinas Beach Vitex Task force includes several agencies and groups, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District.
Beach vitex leaves are round, silvery gray-green, have a spicy fragrance and purplish blue flowers. If beach vitex is spotted, do not dig it up. Scientists are working hard to record and monitor the location of the plant to determine how widespread the problem is and how fast it is spreading.
The First Coast Invasive Working Group identified the beach vitex as a potential threat and is educating members on how to identify and eradicate it.
“Beach vitex sightings in Nassau and St. Johns County have been eradicated and we’re actively vigilant against any new populations that may show up,” said Jessica Spencer of the Invasive Species Management (ISM) Branch.
If you see beach vitex, contact Jacksonville District’s ISM Branch at (904) 232-1044.