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Woodland Gardens

January 2024

     About a year ago, we started to recognize that there was a beautiful section on theVISTA property that included a cypress swamp. Despite being crowded with non-native elephant ears, invasive air potato vines  and Brazilian pepper trees, there were beautiful terrestrial orchids, royal ferns, marsh ferns and many other native species. 

Evans led a team that pulled out the elephant ears and mulched the area. We then started planting native wildflowers and 3 red maple trees in the area.  In the  summer of 2023 the air potato vine beetle (released by the University of Florida)  found a prolific growth of air potato vines and began a feeding frenzy, nearly completely removing the above ground vines. 

     With encouragement  from Tia of the Hillsborough County extension service, Mary Ellen wrote a successful grant to the Tampa Bay Estuary Program for a woodland restoration project. Given that a portion of the land is a wetland, we obtained a permit from the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission to remove invasive species.

The work to remove these invaders began in January 2024. Our first priority and the major task was to remove Brazilian pepper trees, which were dominating the area.  Elizabeth marked the trees with orange tape to assist the volunteers in identification. Then, over two weekends in January,  teams from Sickles NHS, USF Rotaract, VISTA volunteers and master gardener volunteers began cutting, chopping, and digging them out.  Scott used a back hoe to remove several especially large clumps. We chopped and dropped many of the cuttings that didn't have seeds and hauled other debris to a dumpster.  Vicki and the Sickles students started some 100 seedlings. Gail and Ann led a team that dug up invasive Japanese climbing fern.

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