The Air Potato

Chemicals should be a last resort and when a chemical is necessary, it should be the least toxic remedy possible.  So reading about the 300 beetles (Lilioceris cheni) from China being released to combat the air potato, gets me fired up.  Actually, the release of the beetles began in 2012.

The air potato

The air potato is a tuber that forms on a vine.  These ‘potatoes’ fall to the ground where they sprout new vines.  ¹Back in 1905, Henry Nehrling sent the Air potato to the USDA and in 1976 J.F. Morton noted its invasive potential. It was allowed to grow and grow through the 80’s and by 1999, the vines were transforming plant communities and displacing native plants.

Dioscorea bulbifera

The Air potato beetle

The beetle is supposed to be a specialist, only feeding on the air potato with “virtually” no risk” to other plant species.  This feeding is supposed to inhibit vine elongation and “may” reduce the ability of the plant to climb vertical structures.

Adults live 5 months or longer with females depositing on average, more than 1200 eggs during their lifetime.  Complete development takes 8 days and adults emerge in about 16 days where they begin mating in 10 days.  Will the air potato beetle population get out of control?

Air potato vine

The reviews about the release are positive but I’m a skeptic and believe the long-term results remain to be seen.   I for one will continue to rip the tubers out of the ground and pull the vines out of the trees.  I don’t believe I will be allowing a beetle do a job I am totally capable of doing.  Eradication of invasives requires education and effort, but human beings plus elbow grease is to me the safest and surest way of getting the air potato under control.  When you see them on your property, pull them up.  The environment is still our responsibility.

¹Classical Biological Control of Air Potato in Florida

Help protect native plants and animals , starting in your backyard:   Invasive plants and animals are bad news. They pose health risks to our residents and threaten almost half of our endangered species with extinction. They also negatively impact Florida’s economy.  Management of Florida’s invasive plants alone costs an estimated $100 million annually.  

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