Air potato event may draw 1,200

Volunteers on Saturday will help rid the area of the non-native plant that can take over critical habitat.


Published: Friday, January 29, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 28, 2010 at 10:42 p.m.

Armed with buckets, bags and gloves, an expected patrol of some 1,200 people will disperse across Gainesville on Saturday in an effort to track down and eliminate an intruder.

Facts

Air potato event Saturday

What: the 11th annual Great Air Potato Round Up. Registration for this year's round up is full.
When: Saturday from 9-11 a.m.
Where: At 27 natural sites across Gainesville. Celebration afterward until 1 p.m. at Citizens Park (the 1100 block of Northeast 14th Street).
For information: To learn about next year's event, call 334-3326.

Tips to control the air potatoDo-it-yourself air potato control tips from the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council and the city of Gainesville Nature Operations Division:
- For small pockets of infestation, the most effective control method is to dig up the root mass of the plant. For large plants this mass can be the size of a car steering wheel.
- For larger infestations, cut the plants down to just above ground level and spray with any common herbicide containing triclopyr.
- Collect bulbs and all other plant tissues in plastic trash bags and dispose of properly in a dumpster.

That intruder: the invasive air potato, a non-native vine known for its suspended spud-like bulbs.

The air potato lurks among the foliage of Gainesville's green spaces, and if left to its own devices, it can strangle native plants and take over critical habitat.

Early Saturday, the volunteers of the 11th annual Great Air Potato Round Up, organized by the city of Gainesville Nature Operations Division, will help to keep the non-native plant reasonably under control for another year.

In groups of families and friends, volunteers will head out to some of the city's most infested areas to collect as many of the potato-like bulbs as they can. Each bulb has the potential to sprout and produce a new plant, so organizers hope the efforts of volunteers to destroy these bulbs will prevent the species from spreading.

The air potato is one of the top 10 concerns of the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council, according to the organization's chairman, Jim Burney, and Burney praised the participants of the Great Air Potato Round Up for becoming informed about the problem and taking action.

"(The roundup) raises awareness, and it's good for the ecology of the area," he said. "It's one of the best public involvement events of the year across the state."

Geoffrey Parks, a naturalist with the city of Gainesville Nature Operations Division, helps to plan the Great Air Potato Round Up, and he said it has had a noticeable environmental impact and provided an opportunity to educate the public about the issue. He has also been very encouraged by the eagerness of the community to participate. For the last several years, there have been many more willing participants than registration spots.

"The inquiries from people ... have come earlier and earlier every year," he said. "And so we know these people who participate really have a good time and feel like they are doing something good."

Parks said the roundup has been designed to have a fun, family-friendly atmosphere, complete with contests for the largest and most bizarre-looking potatoes as well as a celebration event afterward where volunteers can meet up and enjoy music, food and a prize raffle.

Bubba Scales, a longtime participant and sponsor, said he hopes Gainesville residents will continue to think about the impact they can make through the roundup. "It's a labor of love," he said.

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