Air Potato Roundup is Jan. 29


Published: Thursday, January 20, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 20, 2005 at 12:22 a.m.
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Here are but a few of the countless air potatoes that were collected during last year's roundup.

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Facts

6th Annual Great Air Potato Roundup

What: Volunteers fan out around Gainesville and remove air potato tubers from city nature parks. At the end of the roundup, volunteers get T-shirts, food, prizes, and awards for the biggest and weirdest potatoes.
When: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 29.
To register: Registration is required; call (352) 334-2227 or e-mail parksgr@ci.gainesville.fl.us or register online at www.natureoperations.org.

Those pesky, determined air potato vines, an evil invasive exotic, are taking over Gainesville's natural areas.
"Air potato vines grow extremely quickly. They can get 30 or 40 feet up into the vegetation and form a blanket that can shade everything," says Geoff Parks, a habitat naturalist with the City of Gainesville Nature Operations Division.
On Saturday, Jan. 29, Gainesvillians will be fighting back at the 6th Annual Great Air Potato Roundup.
From 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., volunteers will comb Gainesville's natural areas on the hunt for the lumpy, knobby, greenish-looking potatoes. (Sorry, you can't eat them. They might look like potatoes, but they have nasty chemicals.) Air potatoes, Dioscorea bulbifera, get their name because of where they grow: along high, sinewy vines. At each spot where the leaves connect to the vine, a potato-like "bulbil" forms.
"In the winter, the vine dies back and all the little bulbils fall," says Parks, explaining why the vines are so prolific. "Each one can create a new plant, so it can spread very rapidly. If you throw one air potato in the bushes, the next year you could have 100 plants."
The even worse news is that air potatoes replace native plants and animals.
"If we don't try to do something, it can take over," says Parks.
Say goodbye to your favorite plants and birds, and hello to flora monoculture.
During the clean-up, teams will fan out across the city's natural areas. You'll be assigned a site and given directions. Team leaders will show each group its quarry and discuss the air potato problem in general.
"It's a volunteer event, it gets people out there and involved, and it makes them aware of the problem in a more hands-on way instead of just lecturing about it," says Parks. "It serves an educational purpose as well as reducing the spread of the air potato."
Following the roundup, a celebration festival will be held at Morningside Nature Center with free T-shirts and food, prizes, and awards for the biggest and weirdest potatoes.
To register, call 334-2227 or e-mail parksgr@ci.gainesville.fl.us or register online: www.natureoperations.org.
If you want to be a year-round foot soldier in the war against the air potato, a new program is starting which will give you that opportunity.
Parks says volunteers with "Adopt-A-Spud" will do follow-up air potato monitoring and dig out the below-ground tubers. Call Parks for details.
Julie Garrett can be contacted at (352) 374-5049 or by e-mail to garretj@gvillesun.com.

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