MARCH 2015

SJR State participates in air potato roundup

Karen Meyers
Karen Meyers Karen Meyers
Karen Meyers Karen Meyers
Karen Meyers

St. Johns River State College was among the eight organizations participating in the 9th annual First Coast Air Potato Roundup. This event is co-hosted by the Invasive Species Management Branch of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District and the First Coast Invasive Working Group to celebrate National Invasive Species Awareness Week.

Twenty-five volunteers, comprised of students, faculty, friends and family, came together for the one-day event to collect and remove three five-gallon buckets full of air potatoes and vines from SJR State’s Orange Park campus, with the largest potato measuring in at 13.8 cm.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection states that air potatoes are fast-growing vines, with tubers that resemble potatoes. These vines can grow up to eight inches per day and will continue to grow new vines for up to 20 years. While first introduced to Florida as a decorative plant in the 1800s, the air potato population has grown to become a severe danger to the state’s ecosystem.

“Air potatoes are an invasive species that stifles native species of plants,” said SJR State instructor Karen Meyer, who served as the site captain for the Orange Park campus roundup.

“These roundups are a way to help keep the population of the species under control,” she said.

In order to combat the invasive species, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) has systematically released biocontrol beetles in areas throughout the state, including Jacksonville. These beetles, imported from Nepal, have a diet consisting only of air potatoes, which makes them a perfect countermeasure. Though the beetles haven’t been released specifically at SJR State’s Orange Park campus, evidence of the beetle’s presence was witnessed during the roundup, suggesting the insects have migrated to Clay County and are making an impact on the air potato population. The potatoes collected during the one-day roundup event were fed to the biocontrol beetles within the FDACS center in Gainesville.

The other locations participating in the roundup event included the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens, Tillie K. Fowler Park, Jacksonville University, Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park, Tree Hill Nature Center, the Jacksonville Arboretum and Gardens, and Howell Park in Atlantic Beach.

Volunteers also participated on the SJR State St. Augustine campus, removing 15 pounds of potatoes and vines. Participants also saw fewer air potatoes and vines than last year, suggesting a decrease in the plant’s population on the St. Augustine campus as well.

Meyers said the roundup positively affects the SJR State students who participated in the event. “The students learn about invasive species and gain better understanding on their impact on the environment,” she said. “I love this activity, because it gets the students in the woods - into nature. Overall, today was an awesome event.”


A close-up of the biocontrol beetle being used to counteract the air potato population. Photo courtesy of Eric Rohrig, FDACS.

Leaves with tiny holes similar to those shown were witnessed during the recent air potato roundup event, suggesting the beetles have reached as far as Clay County. Photo courtesy of Jessica Spencer, US Army Corps of Engineers.
IMG p2280020.jpg: All air potato roundup volunteers on SJR State’s Orange Park campus. The event brought students, faculty, and child volunteers who were enthusiastic about environmental improvement and conservation.