Native to: Tropical Asia
Air potato was first introduced to the Americas from Africa and was introduced into Florida in 1905. Due to its ability to displace native species and disrupt natural processes such as fire and water flow, air potato has been listed as one of Florida’s most invasive plant species since 1993, and was placed on the Florida Noxious Weed List by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in 1999.
Air potato can grow extremely quickly, roughly 8 inches per day. It typically climbs to the tops of trees and has a tendency to take over native plants. New plants develop from bulbils (aerial tubers) that form on the stem of the plant. The bulbils fall to the ground and serve as the primary means of dispersal. The aerial stems of air potato die back in winter, but resprouting occurs from bulbils and underground tubers.
Air potato is not recommended by UF/IFAS. It is a prohibited plant according to the FDACS Florida Noxious Weed Index. The UF/IFAS Assessment lists air potato as prohibited and FLEPPC lists it as a Category l invasive species due to its ability to invade and displace native plant communities.
Prevention is a key step in the management of air potato. Bulbils are the primary mechanism of spread and research has shown even minutely small bulbils can sprout and form new plants. Water is also a major means of dispersal, so care must be taken to first eliminate populations along water bodies where bulbils may be easily spread.
Weeds such as air potato generally invade open or disturbed areas following a burn, clearing or mowing so these areas are particularly vulnerable to invasion. A healthy ecosystem with good species diversity will help to deter infestations. Regular monitoring and removal of plants can prevent the spread and establishment of air potato. Programs to educate homeowners on proper plant identification will also reduce the spread of this species. Native alternatives to air potato for use in home landscaping or natural areas include Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), Florida yam (Dioscorea floridana), purple passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) and American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens).
Cut vines that are high in trees. Remove bulbils and dig up underground tubers if possible. Burning is not recommended, as it results in excessive damage to the native vegetation under the vines.
Mechanical control is limited for air potato, as control of the vines generally results in damage to the vegetation being climbed/smothered by the air potato. Mowing may help suppress air potato in the short term, however mowers and other brush-cutting equipment may disperse bulbils long distances, either through contaminated equipment or throwing of bulbils during the mowing operation.
The air potato leaf beetle, Lilioceris cheni, has been an effective biological control for air potato. The air potato beetle was released in 2012 to help control the air potato vine by causing damage to the leaves of the plant. Those with air potato leaf beetle on their property will see better control if they remove and dispose of (in landfill-bound garbage containers) the “potatoes” left behind by the vine in the fall and winter. The beetles eat the leaves, but not the bulbils.
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