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UF/IFAS researchers build searchable database of non-native plants

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Ever wonder what that plant is in your yard that seems to be taking over? The University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences has a new website designed to help you figure it out.

Researchers with UF/IFAS’ Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants spent more than a year developing a searchable website and database to help Floridians assess problem— or just plain puzzling —non-native plants.

Plants that come into the United States from abroad can choke out crops, native plants and gardens or cause algae blooms that kill fish, and can even poison animals. Invasive species threaten Florida’s environment, economy and health and cost the United States an estimated $120 billion a year.

The Assessment of Nonnative Plants in Florida’s Natural Areas website and database is at http://assessment.ifas.ufl.edu/. The site helps predict the invasion risk of non-native species in the state, as well as species proposed for introduction.

“One of our immediate goals was to take our existing database of non-native plant species and make it more readily available to both UF faculty/staff and the general public on a user friendly, easily searched website,” said Deah Lieurance, coordinator of the UF/IFAS Assessment. “We improved from the previous website by making the database accessible with search and filtering options. We also added more than 1,500 photos, links to distribution maps, information on where the plant is native, and growth forms —trees, vines, herbs or shrubs.”

The website features more than 800 species, easily searchable by common or scientific name, and results can be filtered. For example, results can be narrowed to vines that are safe to plant in North Florida. Scrolling through all the photos only takes a few minutes. The website shows a “caution” in some cases, “invasive not recommended,” in others and “prohibited” for species that pose the greatest ecological threats.

About 70 percent of the species in the database are not a problem, and in some cases may even be beneficial. A simple search will tell you when and where it’s safe to use plants such as Japanese holly and canna lily.

Luke Flory, an assistant professor in ecology with UF/IFAS, provides oversight of the assessment program and said everyone from weekend gardeners to professional landscapers to UF faculty and staff rely on the recommendations of the UF/IFAS assessment team when considering the use of nonnative plants.

“The new IFAS Assessment web site provides one more tool for Floridians to manage and conserve our valuable natural resources by helping to prevent further non-native plant invasions,” Flory said.

Air Potato

The air potato vine is an invasive species prohibited by the state.