Tide Turning in War on Melaleuca in Florida
The National Park Service at Big Cypress National Preserve recently celebrated the completion of the initial treatment of the exotic plant melaleuca within the 729,000 acre preserve in south Florida. Since efforts began, approximately 14.5 million stems have been eradicated. The battle will, however, continue.
Melaleuca was introduced to Florida in 1906 as an ornamental tree from Australia and was planted extensively to create forests in the swamp in the 1930s. It grows rapidly to 50-80 feet, soaks up large quantities of water, and out-competes native vegetation.
Also, in the Everglades, the mostly treeless "river of grass", in some places has become the "river of trees", a completely alien habitat to the plants and animals that have evolved to live in the Everglades. However, progress has been made. At one point, melaleuca infested more than 500,000 acres of the Everglades. Due to an effective multi-agency effort on Federal and State lands in the Everglades protection area, the infestation has been reduced to about 350,000 acres. The National Park Service has teamed up with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for two projects that will allow for follow-up treatment and eventual total eradication of melaleuca. With initial treatments completed, follow-up treatments, such as this partnership example, are imperative in order to protect our initial investments and prevent new growth from reaching a seed bearing state and reinfesting an area. To date, 1.4 million stems have been treated through the follow-up process, and with the two challenge cost share projects, approximately 3.5 times the acres originally envisioned will be treated.