If you’re an avid beach walker of the Panhandle, it’s likely that you have come across this menace, but didn’t think much of it. Well, maybe you thought it’s just another dune plant. Beach Vitex, a fast spreading plant, mimics a beachcomber. It makes its way along shorelines looking for useful or interesting items to take….like dunes! Beach Vitex has been identified in Escambia, Santa Rosa and Franklin Counties, so there’s a possibility it’s here in Gulf.
Beach Vitex (Vitex rotundiflolia) is a woody, deciduous shrub that grows in patches along coastal dunes. It also is very vine-like with long spanning rhizomial runners. Many of you have probably heard of vitex before. The ornamental known as the chastetree (Vitex agnus-castus) is a close relative. The main difference, is that beach vitex can handle salty soils and a harsh marine environment.
The leaves of beach vitex are velvet in texture. The plant produces a mass of purple flower in late spring/early summer. The plant grows at an aggressive rate in warmer months too. Green seeds develop as the flowering period ends. Over the months to follow, the seed begins to dry and turn brown. During the winter months, the leaves fall and all that remains are the dry seeds and vines. Beach vitex has no known predators, either. Not even the deer population find it inviting.
The most alarming characteristic of beach vitex is its rapid growth of runners. These runners can quickly crowd out native dune plants and disrupt sea turtle nesting areas. It does provide for a vegetative cover for dunes, however the negative impacts far outweigh the benefit. So, how did this rascal find it’s way to the region? Well, you had few options of dune plants to choose from in the Carolinas during the 1990’s. If you were rebuilding a beach landscape after a storm event, your options were sea oates, American breach grass and you guess it, beach vitex. These plants were sold in nurseries, so they were easily spread throughout the region. Our neighbors on the Atlantic were not aware that this beach stabilizing plant would wreak havoc on their native dune plants. According to records through EDDMapS - an invasive tracking system, beach vitex has been found as far north as the Chesapeake Bay and as far south as Jacksonville. The plant has now been found in coastal Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
We need your help. Discovery is the first step in eradication. If you think you may have spotted this plant along our Gulf County shores, please contact the Gulf County Extension Office at 639-3200.
Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS Extension blog post, “Getting Rid of Beach Vitex” by Rick O’Connor, UF/IFAS & Florida Sea Grant: http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/escambiaco/2019/06/18/getting-rid-of-beach-vitex/
and the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Publication “Identifying & Managing Beach Vitex” by Dr. C.A. Gresham, Clemson University: http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/pests/weeds/hgic2315.html
Early Detection & Distribution Mapping System (EDDMapS): https://www.eddmaps.org/florida/
UF/IFAS Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.