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Plant Propagation By Plant Rustling - Interview With An Outlaw

An Interview With A Card Carrying Plant Rustler

There are certain people who march to their own tune. I’m married to one of them. This farm boy and world traveler has a few quirks. One of them is that he is a confessed card-carrying plant rustler.

Recently, after looking at the tallest trees in the neighborhood, a nosey neighbor passing by, inquired as he pointed to the tallest trees in the development, “What kind of  trees are those? I could only lie when I answered, I don’t know, you’ll have to ask my husband, he planted them.

Later, while discussing the not-so-neighborly inquisition, I interviewed my plant rustler about what he was thinking, when he brought all those trees home. I was trying to come up with an answer that sooner or later we’d have to give to the home owners association, when someone reports the trees. This interview had to be conducted gently. He’s a little touchy about his trees. This is what he told me:

Interviewer: “What made you interested in those particular trees?”

“Being a card-carrying plant rustler, I couldn’t believe my luck the day I came across a stand of young pines trees. At the time, I was working as a newbie citrus grove inspector in Tavares, Florida. I was quite captivated by the sight of tall pine trees with long soft gray/green needles gently swaying in the breeze. I later, would read that when the winds are strong the needles of these graceful trees produce a soft whistle, which I’ve personally never heard. These pines seemed to be the prettiest of all pines.”


Interviewer: “Where did you first discover them?”

“In my job, I often wondered why they were planted in long straight lines like along edges of citrus groves, dirt roads into groves, and especially found along the drainage ditches or man-made canals. Later, as I traveled around the state, I noticed more and more of them, especially near the beaches.”

“Then, one day while inspecting an orange grove in Brevard County for citrus canker and the newly invasive citrus greening with my mentor, Gene I asked him what kind of pines they were. His answer was “Australian Pines” a species of which I had never heard of before. I know know the true scientific name is ‘Casuarinas spp.’”

Interviewer: “Did you go buy some of these trees?”

“No, being the free plant rustler that I am, I spent my lunch break digging up three fine specimens to take home. Why should I pay for something God gave us for free? Over the next few months, I babied my trees and enjoyed visions of how stately they would look on our property. I am quite proud of their progress and hardiness.”

The First Surprise

Interviewer: “Aren’t these trees an unwanted or invasive species?”

“First, in my personal opinion, this is still a beautiful tree, despite the fact that others view it as an unwanted species here in Florida. Like other transplants to Florida, I was unaware of the true nature of the trees. That said, however, my education on the species led me to quite a few surprises.”

“My initial astonishment was that what I was looking at, and thought was a pine tree - is not a true pine tree. Not only that, it is not even related to pine trees. The Australian Pine is a member of the Casuarinaceae family.

“This means they are angiosperms, not conifers. These deciduous trees have a soft, wispy, pine like appearance, growing up to 100 feet or more in height. They have tiny brown flowers and are wind pollinated. The fruit of the Australian Pine is about 1/2 -inch nutlet in diameter, and contains winged seeds.”

The Second Surprise

Interviewer: “Sounds like you did quite a bit of research on your trees. They seem to be everywhere, didn’t people plant them on purpose?”

“My second surprise, was to learn that what appear to be pine tree needles are actually multi-jointed branch-lets, which are true leaves rather than being a needle. Australian Pine was widely planted in Florida in the late 1800’s for the purposes of ditch and canal stabilization, shade and fast growing lumber for building boats. So, knowing that and having seen so many of them across the state, I was equally surprised to learn that they are not a native tree and originally came from Asia, Oceania, and Australia.

Class I Prohibited Plants — Not allowed to be possessed, collected, transported, cultivated, or imported.

Class II Prohibited Plants — Considered highly invasive, but may be cultivated in a nursery regulated by the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. May be sold out-of-state, but may not be imported, or collected from the wild. Must be strictly contained on nursery property.

Ecological Threats

Interviewer: “What is the big problem with Australian Pines?”

“My biggest shock was discovering that they are considered to be ecological threats, not only because they eliminate the habitat of native plants - but also because the roots are capable of producing nitrogen through microbial links.

Once they are growing in an area, they change the soil so radically, that it not only destroys the habitat of native plants, but also that of insects and other wildlife. They also deplete the soil of moisture. This is because the ground below the trees, becomes sterile and lacking in food value for native wildlife.”

Sample of Prohibited Species in Florida

Each state has it’s own list of prohibited plants and trees, here is an example of invasive species currently regulated in the state of Florida

Prohibited plant and tree species in Florida are:

  • ·         Australian Pine
  • ·         Air Potato
  • ·         African Elodea
  • ·         Alligator weed
  • ·         Ambulia
  • ·         Brazilian Pepper
  • ·         Cat’s claw
  • ·         Chinese Tallow
  • ·         Cogon grass
  • ·         East Indian Hygrophila
  • ·         Eurasian Watermilfoil
  • ·         Exotic Burweed
  • ·         Hippo Grass
  • ·         Hydrilla
  • ·         Japanese Climbing Fern
  • ·         Kudzu
  • ·         Melaleuca
  • ·         Old World Climbing Fern
  • ·         Purple loosestrife
  • ·         Salvinia
  • ·         Sawah flowing rush
  • ·         Soldier Plant
  • ·         Swamp Stone Crop
  • ·         Tropical Pickerwillreed
  • ·         Water Chestnut
  • ·         Water Hycynthia
  • ·         Water Lettuce
  • ·         Water Spinich
  • ·         Wild Red Rice
  • ·         Winged Yam

No Biological Controls

“There are currently no known biological controls for management. The Australian pine can only be managed by manual removal of pine seedlings and saplings; systemic herbicide to bark cut stumps or foliage; and prescribed fire for large infestations. Raking and removal of leaf litter, cones, and seeds should also be done.”

 Loggerhead Sea Turtle - Courtesy of Strobilomyces, France

Threat To Sea Turtles

Interviewer: “Are there any other ecological threat problems to be aware of when it comes to the Australian Pine?”

“Additionally, another problem with Australian Pine, is its shallow roots that make it more susceptible to being blown over during high winds, and hurricanes, which can add to increased erosion.

Another concern, is that when growing in beach and dune areas it can interfere with the nesting activities of native sea turtles. Loggerhead sea turtles can get tangled up in their roots, causing death and injury, in addition to interfering with nesting.

Because of these problems, this once popular tree, purposely planted for use in erosion control along beaches and as fast growing windbreaks in grove areas, is now outlawed in many parts of Florida. They are a Prohibited Plant - Class 1.”

Fast Facts About Logger Head Sea Turtles

Here is a brief look at Logger Head Sea Turtles:

  • ·         Endangered species that was formerly hugely hunted for both meat and eggs
  • ·         They were also hunted for fat to use in cosmetics and folk medicines
  • ·         The shells of these turtles were also coveted to make into objects like combs
  • ·         They are an internationally protected species
  • ·         One third of all the world’s population of logger head turtles are found on Florida beaches


Saving the Loggerhead Turtle

Never Again He Vowed

Interviewer: “That sounds serious and a difficult problem to reverse. Did you learn anything from this experience?”

“My Australian Pines are an example of why most of us transplants from outside of Florida, need to be careful, and thoroughly research what we intend to plant before we plant. It’s the responsible thing to do even if you aren’t a Master Gardener. Moreover, for me, it’s been a process of revelation.

It’s been one of those experiences that are filed in my mind, right up next to the experience of hand planting 8,000-sapling loblolly pines, only to find they were a prize dessert for the deer, that ate almost every one of them - under Things Not to Do Again!”

The Other Side of the Story - Save Our Pines

Maybe The Plant Rustler Instinctively Knew Something

Actually, the Australian Pines were his only success in terms of something he rustled actually surviving once he brought them home. I have no plans to point that out directly to him. He’s still real proud of them and quite put out, that they are considered to be an invasive species.

He’s also put out, that in the end, the homeowners association made him get rid of them. The real sore point was that it wasn’t the fact that they are a prohibited species — that topic never came up — it was that under “their rules,” you could only have two trees in the front of your yard, both of which had to be magnolias.

He’s not alone, both in his plant rustling behaviors and his continuing affection for Australian pine trees (see below). These trees are very controversial. While they are a Class I Prohibited plant, they will remain in Florida without any known biological control, as they have been here for at least one hundred years.

In his defense, maybe my card-carrying plant rustler instinctively may have known something — Here is the other side of the Australian Pine controversy:

The beneficial factors with this species:

Post Interview Commentary

Concluding that interview, here’s what I know:

The subject being interviewed, as remorseful as he sounded, is and always will be 100% likely to be a repeat offender.

He simply cannot resist the temptation of rustling plants and trees that capture his interest.

Examples from his plant-rustling rap sheet:

Successfully smuggled shoots of bamboo that he found in Madrid, Spain into the U.S. (Results, they died a natural death).

Successfully smuggled seeds from practically every plant he saw in Maui. (Results, they never sprouted, may have had something to do with the two feet of snow on the ground).

Successfully snuck wildflowers across the Canadian border. (Results, they too never sprouted, may have had to do with poor West Virginia shale soil).

Caught red-handed on Avery Island, digging up more bamboo shoots. (Results, was made to leave them behind or be fined).

Lugged home twelve six foot tall eucalyptus trees that he “found” outside an abandoned nursery in Arizona to Florida, inside his eighteen wheel rig. (Results, twelve six foot tall very dead wind whipped trees who didn’t appreciate Mr. I Gotta Have Air, whenever I drive 2500 miles). Note: He planted them anyway, just in case they could be revived.

Dumpster dived for dead and discarded plants in Missouri. (Results we had two hundred or more, half dead house plants cluttering our screened porch, only a handful survived).

Snuck cacti from Mexico back across the border. (Results, it survived a few years, marginally hanging on for dear life in a too cold and wet environment).

Interviewer Notes:

Examples of the plant rustling escapades are too numerous to list, but include non-native plants, seeds, and trees from Honduras, Belize, Panama, China, Thailand, and Italy.

He has been sent through a Master Gardener Certification program, but still holds basic beliefs that cannot change his opinion on Australian Pines.

There is no hope for reform.

Need to research to see if this is some new form of obsessive compulsion disorder.

If You’d Like To Know More About Invasive Plants and Prohibited Plants

Florida Invasive Plants

 Invasive Plants Information List

Tree Of Heaven Invasive Plant

Loggerhead Turtle Video