Punk trees, also called paperbark tea trees, are scientifically known as Melaleuca quinquenervia, and, are not native to Florida, but can be found throughout the southernmost part of the peninsula, up into the central portion of the Sunshine State. Here in Sarasota, these nuisance trees can also be found, in no small part, because of their ability to rapidly reproduce. Their remarkable fortitude allows them to grow in upland, that is, relatively dry environments, as well as in aquatic systems.
These trees generally grow to about 40 feet in height, though have been documented to reach 100 feet tall, and are native to the continent of Australia. Though these species hail from quite far away, they were first introduced to the state over fifty years ago. Since that initial introduction, punk trees have spread their presence through most of the south and up to and across central portions. This is so because of how the species is able to withstand the elements, as well as its aggressive method of spreading its seeds.
While this species is valuable to its native environment because it naturally attracts bees, birds, and bats, here, is an altogether different story. It thrives in bright wetland areas, moist soil, which is quite abundant in Sarasota, and even grows heartily in standing water. It’s distinct bark, which appears paper-like, peels off the trunk and its leaves, when crushed, produce a camphor-like smell. Because it is an evergreen, it doesn’t truly go dormant in the strictness sense, it does slow or stop its growth during the winter, which makes it the ideal time to cut them down.
Dealing with Invasive Species in Florida
Invasive species in the state of Florida has long been a problem. This is because native trees must compete with other species that are more adept at reproducing and for essential growth and health elements. Like Brazilian pepper, paperbark tea trees are a very stubborn species, being able to regenerate from severe mechanical damage and storm damage. These trees produce a lot of seeds, so much, the species is able to overtake native growth areas.
The city of Sarasota requires a permit to remove any tree (other than citrus) with a diameter greater than 4.5 inches. Tree removal permits start at $30 plus $5 for each tree. Permits are required but no fee is charged for the removal of “nuisance” trees such as punk trees. The fine for removing a protected tree without a permit can be $225 for each inch of the tree’s diameter. —Sarasota Herald Tribune
When exotic tree species are introduced to the area, like all living things, must compete for vital soil nutrients, for sustaining sunlight, and, room to grow root systems. Because bees, birds, and bats are attracted to white punk trees, these insects and animals help to spread the trees’ seeds, giving less attention to other native species.
The paperbark tea tree is so aggressive in its pervasiveness, that it’s considered an ecological threat to the Everglades and is on the official Florida “Do Not Plant a Pest” list. It can produces hundreds of seeds, and is capable of producing a million seeds per year, while being able to store up to 20 million seeds, according to the United States’ own National Park Service’s Plant Conservation Alliance.
Cutting Down a Punk Tree
Punk trees are part of the Myrtaceae family or myrtle family, and are not easy to cut-up and kill. Like other invasive species, which are very adaptable and highly resilient to mechanical damage and weather elements, just cutting a punk tree down is not sufficient to kill it off. Therefore, it takes a bit more effort to cut down paperbark tea trees.
The first thing you’ll need to do, if you’re within the city limits of Sarasota, is to obtain a permit. Though there’s not a need to get a separate permit for invasive or nuisance species, the city does require a removal permit. Once you have the permit, follow these steps to cut down a punk tree:
- Gather the necessary tools and supplies. You’ll need jeans, long sleeve shirt, leather gloves, dust mask, eye and ear protection. You’ll also need a chainsaw and systemic herbicide.
- Cut the punk tree down. Clear the area where the tree will fall to prevent property damage and then cut through the trunk near the base of the tree, allowing it to fall in a safe direction.
- Apply systemic herbicide to the stump. Apply a healthy dose of systemic herbicide to the stump and allow it to work its way through the wood as long as the manufacturer suggests.
- Dig up the dead stump and roots. Once the stump has died, you can then dig it up, along with the roots and backfill the hole.
Take caution when cutting down a paperbark tea tree because this species is known to cause highly caustic allergic reactions. If you suffer from allergies, you could be exposed to respiratory irritation, nausea, and headache if you make contact with a punk tree.
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