Just a Few Tidbits This Morning

Good morning and welcome back to Ridin Out the Recession. We hope all are well, and wherever you’re at if spring hasn’t sprung for you yet, we hope it’s just right around the corner for you! It was 94 degrees here today.

Soda Apple: Today if you guys don’t mind, I’d like to talk about the soda apple. In regards to ranchers, and citrus growers, here in the State of Florida, but mainly the cattle ranchers, we have a problem with this plant, and have had for many, many years now.

These plants I remember distinctly while working on the ranch. They’ve been in Florida about 20 years now, and were first discovered in Florida in Glades County. If you’re involved in the cattle industry here in Florida, you know the soda apple, or have known the soda apple first hand.

When you talk about an invasive species of plants, this has to be in the list. These plants will absolutely take over your pastureland, if nothing were done to stop it.
Back when I was working on the ranch in Kenansville, this is where we had our first contact with this plant, and has since spread to the other two places. We first started noticing it heavy, in one pasture particularly, and it spread from there.

I’m guessing this one pasture was probably 50-60 acres, and good grass. It seemed like in no time at all, this plant had almost completely taken over the entire pasture. Seriously, this soda apple plant seems to grow leaps and bounds daily.

First off this was probably around 1991-92, and it had been in Florida, but hadn’t really gotten to our area heavily. The ranches are in Osceola County, which abut to Polk, where Deb and I live.

The problem we first faced was basically no knowledge of how to combat this plant. We have always been on a mowing program, where when we’d move the cows in the summer to other pastures, we’d drag the pastures busting up the manure (cheap fertilize), then mow it.

Not knowing we were hurting more than helping. We did this by thinking our mow programs would help our problem. BUT, we were actually spreading the plant even more, because we were mowing the soda apple AFTER the fruit was on the plant. So when we mowed, we were literally broadcasting the seeds over the entire place!

The fruit I’m speaking off, is a round shaped seed pod, and looks almost exactly like a little watermelon, little dark stripes, against a color background almost identical to a watermelon. These fruits, or seed pods, are just absolutely LOADED with seed, and man, we had gone into the farmin end of soda apples and didn’t even realize it!

So with our help, the soda apple was off to a running start on Dad’s place! To make matters worse, the cows loved the fruit, so they were sowing seeds as well. The soda apple was beginning to call our place home, and I believe it got to the point, they looked at Dad’s place like Disney World…it had become literally, a resort!

I talked with my oldest daughter Michelle, and she said they are a lot better, but the problem they still have is the plants coming up in the swamps. What is happening there is that being back in the swampy areas, they’re still reproducing, and not being treated.

With this the case, the cows are getting back in there, still eating the seed pods, and still spreading the seeds through their manure.

Again, the soda apple problem is much better, but at this point we believe it to be a control situation, and may never be complete eradication.

The cows won’t eat the plant, possibly they don’t like it, but the plant is just covered in sharp spines, or stickers. You can’t pull them up without gloves on, and if you do, well, you’re one tough moutha!

The Soda Apple Plant

The Fruit or Seedpod of the Soda Apple. Check out the thorns!


Not only do the cattle spread the seed, but also much of the wildlife feed on the fruit too. Birds, raccoons, deer and hogs all eat the fruit.

Other ways of spreading the soda apple is your farm vehicles themselves. Your trucks, tractors, plows and mowers may all have seeds attached, or even the whole seed pods. So, moving about on your place may be spreading the soda apple as well.

Even the hay you’ve cut for winter feed may contain seed, so it can be transferred this way as well. So, as you can see, it is a continual fight in regards to this plant.
The soda apple today in Florida now covers over 1 million acres, and has spread into Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas.

Florida cattle ranchers have spent as much as $16 million a year in combatting this plant over the last 20 years.

But now the University of Florida has released a beetle from South America that feeds on the plant, and this has resulted in some success. Since 2003, over 200,000 beetles have been released and are now established in Central and South Florida.

One rancher, who was spending as much as $25,000 per year, now is spending nothing, and says he has reached a “biological balance” and that “when the plants started growing in the spring, the beetles would appear a couple months behind them. The beetles would feed on the plant all summer long.”

It is native to Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

Mowing does help reduce the spread of the plant BUT only prior to bearing fruit. Then you continue to mow when you see flowering starting again.

To dispose of the plants, if you’ve harvested them in some form, is piling them up, and burning them, or burying the plant deeper than 3 feet.

I got to wondering the other day about the soda apple while riding around at our place. When we first bought this place I did see a FEW soda apples, but we dug and disposed of them immediately. Since then, I’ve not seen any, but I’m “knocking on wood,” as I’m making that statement!

Anyway, I thought you guys might like to read about it some, and I enjoyed looking up a little research involved in it.

The soda apple is still a big concern to a lot of people to this day, but looks as if it may be a concern for many more to come!

Thank you guys so much for coming by today, and look forward to visiting with you all, many, many more times in the days ahead! You guys are great!
God Bless!


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5 Responses to Just a Few Tidbits This Morning

  1. Kunoichi says:

    Very interesting! I’ve never heard of these before. The seed pods are quite lovely. I would never have guessed they were pods. And those thorns!! Yikes! How did they end up being brought over?

    Where I grew up, it was purple loosestrife that was the most problematic invasive plant. People used to bring the seeds over from Europe, where they aren’t invasive at all, as a garden plant, though it was also used medicinally. I remember looking at a package of wildflower seeds at a museum giftshop and being shocked that purple loosestrife was included in the mix. It’s been illegal to sell the seeds for a long time, but the mix slipped through!

    I guess dandelions are another invasive plant, brought over by the first pioneers from Europe to NA. At least they were useful, as food, medicine and to make wine.

  2. Bonnie Hollingsworth says:

    I, like Kunoichi, have never heard of the soda apple and to my knowledge have never seen the plant. In Georgia, the farmers fought bitterweed and milk thistle if I recall correctly. Both seemed to “taint” the milk of their cows.

    Up here in the NC mountains we are fighting kudzu vine. It was most dominant in SC for many years, but is slowly creeping right on up the mountains. As of now, we have none on our little plot of land, but it is within a few acres of us.

    Ya know, I think the Good Lord put the plants in the places where HE wanted them, and people, albeit some well meaning, carried them to far away places. We just seem to never let well enough alone.

    We all need to encourage plants that are native to our own areas while trying to rid ourselves of those transportated, invasive plants that would destroy our own natural habitat. It is a job worth working at!

  3. Kunoichi says:

    Oh, I’ve heard of the kudzu vine! That stuff grows so fast, you can practically see it! :-P

    I have to say, though, I have to disagree with the idea that we shouldn’t introduce new plants or animals, even though I like the premise. Sure, we hear all about it if it turns out to be a problem – rabbits and cane toads in Australia, kudzu where you are, purple loosestrife where I grew up, zebra mussels in the Great Lakes, and so on. There’s a tendancy to forget that this is actually very rare, and the spread of plant and animal life adds to biodiversity and the genetic pool.

    Just think – honey bees are introduced. While not a native bee to most of the world, they are now considered vital pollinators. They actually can be a problem, as native bees that don’t produce honey can soon disappear after honey bees are introduced. With these different types of bees (such as the mason bee or bumble bee) emerging at different times, they are often better than honey bees for pollination.

    Think, also, of all the foods we grow. Maize, tomatoes, pumpkins and potatoes are introductions from the “new world” to the “old world.” Wheat, barley, millet, oats – these are all imports from the “old world” to the “new world.” All sorts of things we take for granted – carrots, apples, cows, pigs, etc. – are introductions. If it weren’t for expanding the range of valuable food crops, as well as international trade in food, it would be a lot harder to keep people adequately fed a nutritionally balanced diet.

    This reminds me of a story my MIL shared with me. She and my FIL ended up living in North Eastern Africa for a couple of years. One of the primary income producing crops for local farmers was carrots, which were exported to Europe. The locals, however, didn’t consider carrots edible and never ate them themselves. As there was no other local, affordable, food as high in Vit. A, blindness due to malnutrition was common.

    There were certain grocery stores that catered to “rich, white” people like her (the general assumption was that, if you were “white” (my in-laws are both actually part First Nations, but they look white) and from anywhere outside of Africa, you had to be rich). There were always groups of children begging beside these stores, going after the “rich whites.” They were part of gangs of street children under the thumb of a few controlling adults. Any money they got, they had to turn it over to their “boss.” They didn’t get much of anything in return. When my MIL got approached by one of these begger children, asking for money because they were hungry, she would instead take them into the store and buy them something to eat – a carrot, perhaps, or an apple. She’d then sit the child on a counter and wait until he or she had eaten, then ask if they were still hungry. If they said yes, she’d buy them something else. She kept doing that until they were no longer hungry, then send them on their way. This way, the kids got some food in their bellies – and learned that things like carrots were actually good to eat – while their “bosses” got nothing from her. It wasn’t much, but if kept one child from going blind for no good reason, and fed them at least for a day, it was better than nothing.

  4. Bonnie Hollingsworth says:

    WOW! What a valuable lesson you have given me, Kunoichi, and yes, it is appreciated! I had not thought of my rigid botany professor for several years, and you brought it all back home to me. (Just ribbing you a little!) You’re correct on all counts, by the way, but then, you knew that.

    Okay, let me revise myself a little. I think we SHOULD encourage native growth to a great extent. However, I also think we should work to rid ourselves of the imports, both flora and fauna, that have proved to be detrimental to us. Kudzu is one of many. I find it hard to believe that there are now both pythons and piranhas in the lovely Glades. The snake-head carp are a nuisance and destroying some commercial fishing.

    You mentioned the bees. Two years ago a man up the mountain a little from us cut down a bee tree. It was full of wild bees AND honey and comb. The honey was really the best I’ve had. That’s saying a lot because we also have a neighbor with hives and his honey is excellent! Perhaps the “wild bees” in the tree found a way to work with the imported ones and they cooperated in the building of the honey in the tree. The queen, by the way, was one that none of us had ever seen before. Paul tried to capture her, to no avail.

    Environment also play a major factor in all areas of nature. The same fruit, with the same enzymes and botanical structure will grow differently in different climes. The red delicious apple is one of them. In Washington, they grow taller and more cylindrical. Here in the NC apple country, they are more squat and round, yet their botanical traits are identical when examined in a lab. Nature is a wonderful, mystical thing, and we do have a tendency to screw it up! The red delicious apple originatied from a single odd tree that came up in Iowa in the orchard of Isaac Hyams(sp?), totally different from his other apples, in the mid to late 1800′s. These are called a sport, but they are actually a mutation of the seed. The original fruit was actually ruined over all these years by using it for experiments with different cultivars and is now quite “mealy”. The point is, though, that any apple tree vegetatively propagated from that tree is the same. The father/daughter cells, enzymes, etc., are identical though appearances are altered by climate conditions. Now, I really, REALLY think that you should come up here, dig up all the kudzu near me, take it home with you, and see if it will thrive there. (GRIN!) You are also right about the growth habits of kudzu. A friend down in SC put a stake at the end of one of the vines one afternoon, and the next evening it had grown almost SIX feet!

    What was the tree down in FL that they were trying hard to eradicate? Was it the punk tree? I can’t remember. Anyway, it was REALLY becoming a nuisance though it was attractive to the eye.

    I love the story of your MIL feeding the kids one tidbit at a time. My daughter has a tendency to keep those little tuna snack packs complete with crackers in her car. If she sees one of those people on the street holding a sign “Will work for food”, she just hands them one of the snack packs. That way she knows they have a little food, but they won’t get money from her to buy drugs or beer.

    Great discussion, and I thank you seriously for giving me lots of food for thought. The lowly tomato, the “love apple”; many thought it poisonous for many years. I think we are all learning and progressing as we go along life’s sometimes perilous road. Keep reading, keep writing, and let us all learn from each other! I thank Dub and Deb for giving us the oportunity to do so! I seriously remember my botany prof giving us almost the same lecture that you stated above. How I ever got my degree is STILL a mystery to me. Actually I liked the lab better than the boring books, where I could grow things in petri dishes from diseased plants and study things like botritis, mealy bugs, or white fly eggs.

    Now, many years ago, I moved back to the country where I belonged, forgot all that, and just dig happily in my garden and follow my daddy’s advice on things. I’m where I belong! YES! By the way, I need to get rid of the briar vines on my back bank, and we don’t do harsh herbicides. Any suggestions for me? I would welcome them!

  5. Kunoichi says:

    LOL Bonnie – I do tend to ramble on in text! Sorry about that. ;-) I’m flattered to have reminded you of your professor. :-D

    I do need to correct a silly thing I said about bees that aren’t honey producers. All bees produce honey! It’s just that the honey bee produces and behaves in such a way that humans can take advantage of them. Bumblebees have underground hives. Mason bees need tiny little holes. Killer bees produce excellent honey, but are too aggressive, and so on.

    I do agree with you about encouraging native growth. As for the “imports,” so many of them have been by accident (zebra mussels in bilge water, wood boring insects in crates used to ship fruit, etc.) it’s hard to know just how one would prevent it from happening.

    I don’t recall hearing about a tree in Florida what was a problem. I was really surprised when I did a search on “punk tree” though! http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/fact/mequ1.htm I am familiar with the Melaleuca tree, as it became really popular as a medicinal, and lots of people got involved with a Melaleuca direct sales business. Quite a few products boast it as an ingredient. I’d never heard of them being an invasive plant before!

    re: apples, the Granny Smith (my favorite!) also started from a single tree. It’s still alive, though possibly not for long. It was in the news a few months back after being damaged in a fire, and it was already on the decline.

    As for briar vines – I’m not even sure what they are! *L* I just found this on Google, though (I don’t recognise the plant in google images. There seems to be quite a variety of them). http://www.gardenguides.com/114632-rid-briar-patches.html

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