Cedar Key Garden Club works to eliminate Brazilian Pepper

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By Kellie Parkin

Last week marked the Cedar Key Garden Club’s season kick off for eradicating Brazilian Pepper on the islands, a project entering its 11th year.

Since 1998, club members have been striving to rid Cedar Key of the noxious plant by meeting once a week December through April to pull, cut, and treat it with herbicide.

The weed covers more acreage in Florida than any other exotic noxious plant, said Garden Club member Mary Stone. “The definition of a weed is anything that grows where it’s not wanted,” she said. “The problem with Brazilian Pepper, though, is that it grows faster than any other plant in the region.”

Because of its fast growing, fast spreading nature, Brazilian Pepper threatens the natural native vegetation. One can often see it sprouting up above other shrubs. If it is allowed to flourish, Brazilian Pepper will destroy other plant-life by crowding it out of existence.

Stone said the most important step to eradication is proper identification.

Brazilian Pepper has vibrant foliage with complex leaves of five, seven, or nine veined leaflets. Crushing the leaf will emit a pungent turpentine-like smell. The shiny green leaves have serrated edges and the stem is a reddish brown. In this region, one plant can grow up to 20-25 ft tall and hangs in a candelabra-like fashion.

Also known as the “Florida Holly,” Brazilian Pepper can sometimes be confused with native plants such as the Yaupon Holly.

The female Brazilian Pepper plant produces small berries that start green and turn bright red in late autumn. “It blooms just in time for Christmas,” Stone said.

“A single plant can produce thousands of berries,” she said. “And research shows that 90 percent of those berries are viable.” Berries are scattered by birds, weather and water, sprouting new plants wherever they fall.

Brazilian Pepper can often be found along disturbed edges such as bulldozed areas, roads, and marsh. “Cedar Key is a community of edges, making it a lovely habitat for the noxious plant,” Stone said.

The mild climate that the community of islands offers also allows it to thrive, she said. “When we first started the project, people didn’t believe that Brazilian Pepper was in Levy County,” she said. “The general thinking was that we were beyond the northern border.” While it is rarely found on the nearby mainland, it thrives a few miles out on the Cedar Keys.

The Garden Club will spend the next several months removing Brazilian Pepper from natural habitats as well as landscaped yards. Each week they determine the area they will work in based on need and public request. The Club also offers to area land-owners herbicide free of charge that is safe for birds and animals.

If you want to help the Garden Club’s effort, or think you may have Brazilian Pepper on your property, call Marci at (352) 543-5697 or Mary at (352) 543-6007.