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Casuarina arrived in Florida

Hybrids of the invasive Australian plant species Casuarina exist in Florida, Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists and university cooperators have found.

These fast-growing, pine-like trees were historically planted widely as ornamentals and along boulevards in south Florida, and are currently being proposed as a windbreak in citrus groves. However, the trees are frequently the tallest in the canopy and can be very damaging during storms and hurricanes. Casuarina has also become an environmental problem, invading and altering natural habitats including Everglades National Park, home to many threatened and endangered species.

Based on physical characteristics, scientists have long suspected hybridization among the three Casuarina species in Florida—C. glauca, C. cunninghamiana and C. equisetifolia—but it is difficult to verify hybridization by these characteristics alone.

DNA tests conducted by botanist John Gaskin, research leader of the ARS Pest Management Research Unit in Sidney, Mont., confirm the existence of hybrids. Examining the DNA, according to Gaskin, allows for better understanding of the identity of the plants and where they came from, and helps explain how these novel hybrids have become so invasive.

by S. C.
17 september 2009, Food & Fun > Nature

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