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January 7, 2018

JAN 7 BPP RogerMc 1Brazilian pepper hunters are an active force in Cedar Key and the aras surrounding it.  The Brazilian pepper plant is an invasive plant that infects both aquatic and terrestrial habitats.  On November 14, The Lower Suwannee and Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge and the Cedar Key Garden Club held a “pepper busting party.”  Among the volunteers who showed up were Dave Trehane, Doug Maple, Roger McDaniels; Garden Club President, Laura Goodwin, and Vic Doig, Refuge Wildlife Fire Management Officer.JAN 7 BPP DoinSpraying 1

Doig informed the volunteers, “Brazilian pepper plant is a Category 1 Invasive that can infect healthy native ecosystems.  The plant itself has a distinctive spiky appearance with bright green leaves.   The female plant produces bright red berries which mature in December, the reason it is called the Christmas plant.”  The pepper plant can be a small shrub or a 30-foot tree.  The leaves are attached in an alternating pattern, with a reddish color at base of leaves.  The leaves are composed of several leaflets with distinct venation.

As the name implies, the Brazilian pepper plant is a tropical plant from Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil and probably introduced into Florida in the mid 1800’s as a decorative bush.  It is in the same family as poison ivy and sumac.  While some people get a rash from contact Doig stated, “I am highly allergic to poison ivy but not the pepper plant.”  Doig then demonstrated by rubbing the plant on his skin.

JAN 7 BP BerriesThe plant is cold intolerant, however, it is spreading up both coasts of Florida.  Doig states, “I’ve been keeping a close watch for the plant and it seems currently to be confined to the lower area of the refuge.”  Where else is the Brazilian pepper plant?  According to Doig and McDaniels, pepper plants are growing all over Cedar Key.

McDaniels has been fighting Brazilian pepper plant for over six years, beginning his campaign to eradicate the pepper plant with the Cedar Key Garden Club.  McDaniels wrote a grant for the funding to eradicate the pepper plant from the Refuge and Luken’s Tract.  The Refuge bought safety equipment, application equipment, chemicals, and tools for volunteers and staff.  McDaniels continues to organize work groups to pepper-bust in the LSNWR.

What should we do about Brazilian pepper plants growing in our yards or on our property?  The Refuge uses mechanical and basal spraying as methods of eradication.  Foliar spraying is not recommended.  Biological eradication is being studied but not available at this time.  It is possible to pull young plants by hand, ensuring all the root is removed. To keep these young plants from taking root again, either put them high up in a tree or throw them into the marsh.  The salt water will kill them.  The larger ones need to be cut at the base and sprayed with a chemical.  For more detailed description of eradication methods and chemicals or if you’re interested in becoming a pepper-buster, call the Refuge at 352/493-0238.

Pictured here are:  Roger McDaniels distributing equipment; Vic Doig applying chemical; the Brazilian pepper berries.


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