Pantropical Old World
Noted as naturalized in the Florida Keys and Everglades by Small, and as aggressively spreading along these coasts by Morton and Austin. Invades marly coastal ridges just above the mean high tide line, in tropical hammocks, buttonwood and mangrove forests, and tidal marshes. Also forms thickets on disturbed coastal roadsides. Can invade disturbed and undisturbed forest sites. Forms a thick mat of entangled stems up to several feet deep, growing over and shading out native vegetation, including trees. Of particular concern in Florida’s coastal hammocks, where it threatens a number of rare, listed native plant species, such as mahogany, thatch palm, wild cinnamon, manchineel, cacti, bromeliads, and orchids. Also found now in every park in the Keys, where it threatens rare natives such as bay cedar and beach star, and covers several acres in Blowing Rocks Preserve on Jupiter Island in Martin County. Listed as a Category I invasive species by Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council and as a noxious weed listed by Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.
Glabrous, evergreen, scrambling shrub with diffuse, slender branches to 5 m (16 ft) long; in older plants, stems to 15 m (49 ft) long. Leaves alternate, with slender petioles to 2 cm (3/4 in) long; blades oval, shiny dark green above, 4-9 cm (1.6-3.5 in) long and 2.5-5 cm (1-2 in) wide, with toothed margins and producing a thin lather when crushed and rubbed in water. Flowers small, greenish white or yellow, in short branched, few-flowered clusters at leaf axils; each with a nectar disc, 5 sepals, 5 hooded petals, and 5 stamens. Fruit a globose capsule, green and fleshy at first and turning brown upon drying, about 8 mm (1/3 in) wide, with 3 grayish seeds.
Distinguished from the native colubrinas by its sprawling habit, glabrous stems, dull gray seeds, leaf blades with serrate margins, and 3 main veins from blade bases.
Thought to have been brought to Jamaica in 1850s by East Asian immigrants for traditional use as medicine, food, fish poison, and soap substitute (Burkill 1935, Perry 1980).
In Florida, now naturalized in coastal areas from Key West north to Hutchinson Island in St. Lucie County (Schultz 1992) and in Everglades National Park, including the Ten Thousand Islands northwest into Collier County (EPPC 1996).
Seedlings and young plants, up to about 5 feet tall, may be hand-pulled as long as their root systems are small and can also be removed.