Scientists investigate weed population for potential problems

Wherever there is soil there can be, and usually area, weeds. While in many ways weeds provide an environmental value they can also be cause for concern.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Wherever there is soil there can be, and usually area, weeds.

While in many ways weeds provide an environmental value they can also be cause for concern.

Scientist Dr. Brian Bahder with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences was investigating one such concern when he uncovered another.

It happened while he was continuing his research into a deadly palm disease called Lethal Bronzing.

“We were actually in a nursery because we believed some of the weeds served as a reservoir or a source of infection for lethal bronzing in the palms,” Bahder said.

What he found instead was the first North American case of a harmful phytoplasma disease in one of the most rapidly spreading weeds throughout South Florida and the country.

The bacteria is known for its threat to fruit, vegetable, and ornamental crops in South America.

“There’s a potential that this phytoplasma could jump into a crop of importance,” Bahder said.

In Bahder’s research, the concern is that this common weed could be a host for destructive bacteria, allowing it to spread.

Dr. Lyn, Gettys, another UFIFAS researcher, is focused on invasive aquatics and wetland plants that can be harmful in many ways.

“We have a long history of having aquatic weed invasions in Florida,” Gettys said.

One of the new invaders is called Crested Floating Heart, which used to be cultivated in water gardens.

“It escaped cultivation and got into our waters and has become one of the most problematic weeds because it interferes with the flow of our water. So if we have a tropical event like a storm, we could have increased flooding,” Gettys said.

Once identified, whether, on water or land, researchers say the key is weed management and control.

“In a perfect world we want to catch these before they really get established and take off so prevention is really the best strategy,” she said.

Prevention is key because herbicides have limited benefits and also present risks to the environment and the focus is to maintain a healthy population of weeds that provide food for animals and protect soil from erosion.


About the Authors:

Veteran journalist Kathleen Corso is the special projects producer for Local 10 News.

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.