PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WMBB) — The Bay County Conservancy is teaming up with UF/IFAS Bay County to hold an event aimed at helping get rid of an invasive species.
Air potatoes grow vines onto trees that can smother them and they also displace native vegetation. They can grow up to eight inches per day and drop to the ground in winter.
“Everywhere they drop on the ground, they come up and make new vines,” Conservancy board member Ron Houser said.
After tree loss from Hurricane Michael, more sunlight is in natural areas, and sunlight helps the vines to grow.
“We fear that these potatoes are going to take over and spread out throughout our properties rather than just on the edges where there used to be light,” Houser said.
The Air Potato Leaf Beetle is used for biological control of the vine, and that is the only food the beetle eats. Air potatoes collected at the event will be sent to a lab in Gainesville, where the beetles are being raised.
“This helps them raise more beetles that they can distribute throughout the state for free so people can release them on properties and help to maintain this vine population,” UF/IFAS horticulture agent Julie McConnell said.
Those who come also have the chance to win prizes.
“We give prizes for the largest, the smallest, the most unusual and the most pounds picked up and our prizes are potato chips,” Houser said.
The event will take place February 22 from 9 a.m. to noon at the Audobon Nature Preserve, located behind Panama City Orthopedics at 408 W 19th St. Volunteers are asked to bring gloves, long pants and comfortable shoes; rubber boots are recommended.