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Remy Partlow (center in red plaid shirt) stands with her invasive plant-busters.

By Darryl E. Owens

Over the decades, Florida has fallen hostage to numerous flora and fauna, from mammoth pythons that have inspired annual snake hunts to iguanas that plunge coldcocked from treetops when the mercury drops.

Florida is for Floridians, reckoned Remy Partlow. At least when it comes to plants.

Especially the dreaded coral ardisia. Sporting bright red berries, the small upright shrub is popular around Christmas as an ornamental plant and widely sold as Christmas berry. Yet, the invasive species, native to Japan to northern India, is no gift to Florida’s ecosystems.

That led Partlow, a writing consultant at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida, last month organized an invasive plant removal in the Mount Dora Forest Preserve to give native plants a fighting chance.

Partlow serves as social media chair on the board of the Lake Beautyberry Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society. The organization looks for local green spaces in need of restoration and works with communities to improve them and create land management plans.

After one the society’s long-term projects was cancelled, the group leveraged its relationship with Mount Dora library, which neighbors the Mount Dora Forest Preserve. 

We got in contact with the manager, Cathy Lunday, manager at the W.T. Bland Public Library in Mount Dora, who gave the team the greenlight. The library began co-hosting periodic coral ardisia removal workshops in February and May. The group reached out to contacts, including Mount Dora Mayor Crissy Stile. Partlow advertised the event in social media, the society’s meetings, and on websites. Their outreach led to nearly 400 interacting with the event for Facebook, but only eight foot soldiers showed up in May to wage war on coral ardisia.

“It’s hard to get people up and moving at 8 a.m. in the hot Florida summer,” Partlow said.

Even for coral ardisia.

Ardisia crenata (coral ardisia) robs native prevents native sprouts and low-lying vegetation from precious sunlight, stymying their development  and “disrupting native plant communities,” according to the Center for Aquatic & Invasive Plants at the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS). The plants are toxic to livestock, pump out seeds, and germinate at a 90% clip. The Florida Invasive Species Council lists coral ardisia as a Category l invasive species “due to its ability to invade and displace native plant communities,” according to Center for Aquatic & Invasive Plants.

And while their ranks weren’t as stout as they hoped, like King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans, Partlow’s group, joined by Stile, charged valiantly into the preserve to tackle the creeping, red-berried enemy.

Two hours later, when Partlow and crew dropped their swords, er, pruning shears, the group had removed over 300 pounds of coral ardisia.

“I have always had an interest in native plants, and I find volunteering in my community to be satisfying,” Partlow said. “Working as a part of Lake Beautyberry Chapter has been a lot of fun, and it feels good to make a difference and advocate for the rare and vital ecosystems present in Central Florida.”

Partlow and her comrades plan to return to the preserve monthly indefinitely for more plant-busting.