Air potatoes rounded up

Published: Sunday, February 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 31, 2009 at 11:42 p.m.

More than 7,240 pounds of air potatoes were pulled out of the ground in Gainesville on Saturday at the 10th Annual Great Air Potato Roundup.

Just over 1,000 volunteers worked at 33 different sites around the city to find the invasive plants and pull them up.

Geoffrey Parks of the city's Nature Operations Division said that past years have taught the organizations how to run the roundup more efficiently.

"This is the 10th time we've done it, so there's been a lot of tweaking. It's gone pretty smoothly," Parks said. "We can all make a huge difference."

The Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, which teamed with the city to sponsor the roundup, estimates that invasive plants are second only to development in their impact on natural areas.

Parks was in charge of organizing all the volunteers and agreed that invasive plants need to be removed.

"Invasive plants are uninvited guests. Our job is in part to keep those uninvited guests from coming in the door," Parks said. "These (native plants) belong to us, so we need to protect them."

Air potatoes are not the only invasive plants that were collected at the roundup.

"We got an awful lot of coral ardisia. It's a huge nuisance," said Fritzi Olson, director of the council. "If it overtakes an area, you can't even walk in it. They need to be made illegal, but that hasn't been done yet."

After the roundup, a celebration festival was held at Morningside Nature Center for the volunteers that included food, live entertainment and guest speakers.

Trophies were also given for the largest and most unusual air potato found.

People from around the community, from infants to retirees, came out to participate.

Many of the volunteers were University of Florida students - like Krystin Zwolinski, a junior elementary education major.

"I thought it would be good to help nature and fun, too," said Zwolinski, a member of the Roots & Shoots club.

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