Armed and outfitted for the occasion, a group of community do-gooders assembled on a recent Saturday morning with one purpose: to help win the war against an invading adversary.
Donning sun-shielding hats and heavy-duty garden gloves, and carting an array of yard tools, insect repellants, sunscreen and water bottles, about two dozen volunteers from the Temple Terrace Rotary Club, King High and other area schools set out to bust the community-wide infiltration of the Brazilian pepper tree.
While its vibrant green leaves and bright red berries may appeal to the casual onlooker or novice gardener, the plant that was imported from South America to Florida in the 1840s for use as ornamental shrubbery has since become known as extremely harmful to the environment.
Joe Gross, the city’s code enforcement director and master gardener who helped spearhead the effort to thwart its existence, said the Brazilian Pepper is one of the state’s most invasive species.
The plant, which can grow up to 10 feet a year to about 25 feet in height, damages and often overtakes native vegetal habitats, which results in the displacement of wildlife and in turn negatively affects the function of natural ecosystems.
The group scoured several neighborhoods—including homeowners’ yards, foreclosed properties, city parks and vacant lots—during its four-hour search-and-destroy mission.
Workers did their best to uproot the plants while Dana Carver, a city parks planner, applied an herbicide to the remaining stumps.
“It was encouraging to participate in the collective community project to both tackle a problem before it becomes unmanageable and educate our residents about the negative impact of invasive species,” Gross said.
Temple Terrace Rotary Club President Cheri Donohue, who accompanied the other volunteers, said she was impressed by her fellow Rotarians’ enthusiasm and due diligence toward eradicating the destructive plant.
“While Rotarians may be known around the world for their grand humanitarian efforts, local projects are the heart of clubs,” she said.