City of Gainesville hosts rally to remove local invasive species

With the help of friends and family, Cub Scout Pack 127 takes part in the cleanup of Ardisia Crenata  in woodlands around the city of Gainesville. Ana Escalante / Alligator Contributor

The Boy Scouts and Gainesville residents teamed up to protect the city’s biodiversity.

On Saturday morning, Gainesville held its fifth annual Great Invader Raider Rally, an event that helps stop the spread of Ardisia crenata, a non-native flowering plant, into the areas surrounding the city.

The event took place in 26 different wildlife and nature spots around Alachua County and had more than 600 registered individuals and groups removing the plant, said Florida Master Gardener Greg McGann.

The Boy Scouts of America North Florida Council, took part in efforts around the city. One of the locations, at 6421 SW 13th St., is where pack 127 met to remove Ardisia crenata berries from surrounding woodlands and creek areas.

Mike Ryan-Simonovich, a cubmaster for the Boy Scouts of America said his pack participates in the rally every year as a service project to give back to the local environment.

“At this point, the entire Earth is a garden,” Ryan-Simonovich said. “Either it’s going to be a garden that is full of weeds or a well-tended garden. I want to help make it the best world I can.”

City employees came out to the cleared areas and sprayed the plants with pesticides to prevent them spreading, McGann said.

“The Ardisia will end up going in the trash,” McGann said. “If they go to a landfill, they will just end up resprouting there.”

The rally also included clean-up spots on UF’s campus such as the woods near the UF Levin College of Law School, the Harmonic Woods north of Lake Alice and the Bivens Rim Forest, which is south of Archer Road, said Nicole Barbieri, a habitat naturalist for the city and an organizer for the Great Invader Raider Rally.

“The great thing about our event is that it introduces people into natural areas that they normally wouldn’t necessarily go into,” Barbieri said. “Getting people outside in nature and fresh air is invaluable.”

After cleaning the Ardisia, volunteers gathered at the Morningside Nature Center, at 3540 E. University Ave., to take part in a small, post-cleanup festival. Food trucks, crafts, environmental teaching booths, donated prizes, and a live performance by band Boiling Oil all helped volunteers celebrate the day’s efforts.

The event focused on controlling Christmas Berries five years ago when the Dioscorea bulbifera, known as the air potato plant, became controlled. Exotic species are becoming an increasing threat to Gainesville’s biodiversity, said Sally Wazny, the Nature Center Education supervisor for Gainesville’s’ Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Affairs Department.

“We have a great community in Gainesville, and it just felt like the best way to get the community involved in helping solve this problem,” Wazny said.

Thomas Wendling, a 10-year-old Cub Scout from pack 127, emphasized that while he was having fun, he also felt this was the first step to the solution.

“The cleanup needs to be done,” Wendling said. “Ardisia can be killing other plants and is very harmful to the environment.”