I’m not a fan of zombies. They’re creepy, unstoppable and incoherent. Yet, millions of people flock to their movies, read their novels, and watch their television shows. While some battle zombies in video games, others are preparing for an actual zombie apocalypse.
But they’re wasting their time. The real cause of our undoing is a creature far colder than zombies.
In a recent post, I lamented what these deer in reptilian clothing had done to my little petunias — which then sent me on a quest to find plants that iguanas would ignore. Sadly, the online resources offered very short lists — usually plants with thick, leathery leaves.
But my vision for the three large pots in the backyard wasn’t exactly thick and leathery. It was more flowery and tropical, like bougainvillea and hibiscus — or as iguanas refer to them: bacon.
One online list suggested mandevilla, a beautiful vining tropical, and its close relative, dipladenia, a more shrubby plant with mandevilla-like blooms. As soon as I read that iguanas ignore the plant, my heart was set on red blooms and deep green foliage cascading over the rims of my pots. Dipladenia it was to be.
All was quiet on the winter front, as somewhat cooler temps slowed the voracious vegetarians to a crawl and encouraged the dipladenias to put on a grand show.
March and April, though, have seen a quick warm-up in zone 10, with daytime temps approaching 90 and nights remaining mild — just enough to stir the cold blood of the cold-blooded brood.
In other words, I went to bed one night with three lush pots. . .
and when I woke up, it was like a scene from Dipladenia of the Living Dead. To varying degrees, each leaf and flower had been chewed. One plant barely had a single leaf remaining.
The Internet had lied to me. The plant that I had been told iguanas would ignore was actually a monster mash. Could I even trust the Internet for a solution?
My first effort was to turn to my neighbors, all of whom shared my horror and agreed that iguanas were an invasive nightmare. They also long ago decided to throw up their hands and their plants in defeat. At that moment, I noticed their gardens — or rather their non-gardens. Aside from palms and a few leathery fronds, there was very little landscaping with flowering anything.
Is this how the end will be? Will we not go out with a bang or a whimper, but with a nibble, a chomp, and a leafy burp?
I, for one, would not go quietly into the garden. Each time I spotted an iguana crossing my line in the sand, edging along the seawall, or nestling itself into a flower pot, I would burst from back door, a flip-flop in each hand — smacking them together — and aggressively running up to my enemies to chase them away. I cared little that my iguana-weary neighbors were cowering and laughing at me from behind their windows.
The sad fact is, it never had to be this way. Iguanas are not native to south Florida — and today’s infestation was born of escaped or released pets. A mild climate plus few predators equals an ecological apocalypse.
Along the banks of undeveloped inland waterways, three iguana species (the common green iguana, the Mexican spiny-tailed, and the black spiny-tailed) can be spotted eating and sunning in the vegetation. Before there was a pool in my backyard, it was not uncommon to see eleven iguanas of various sizes (from 10” long to 4’ long) slithering along the seawall to graze on my weed-filled lawn. Jurassic Park was alive and well in my backyard.
Recently, I was watching “Vikings” on the History Channel. In one episode, the French had poured large vats of boiling oil on the invading Norsemen. Could this same tactic work on my marauders? With each passing day of the iguana invasion, my thoughts turned more medieval. Strips of carpet tackless buried in the pots around my plants. Spiked boards to discourage walking into my yard via the seawall. Crossbow.
Surely, there had to be a way.
Ultimately, I returned to the Internet to find a solution. Information was a mix of common sense (don’t make them feel comfortable), labor intensive (the constant reapplication of Neem oil to plants), and ridiculous (place my compost pile near the seawall to encourage iguana nesting so I could destroy their eggs).
The sites, however, did suggest homeowners could humanely trap iguanas and then humanely euthanize them. I don’t think I’m at that point, though. I don’t think I’m ready to have my garden become a humane slaughterhouse. I just want the iguanas to stay away.
I was alone in my battle. The future and freedom of south Florida gardening was solely in my hands.
Perhaps to fight iguanas, I needed to think like a deer — or at least to think like gardeners who fight a constant battle against them. Cages around everything. Wolf urine. Old CDs dangling from trees.
Shimmering movement — and then my strategy fell into place.
I placed interlocking plant stakes in each of the pots, creating a sort-of cage around each of the three dipladenias. I rummaged through some old Christmas wrapping and found spools of shimmering red and shiny white curling ribbon.
“Use the white one,” Joe said. “It will be prettier.”
War is never pretty, but the white would better reflect sunshine. So I cut ribbon and tied each strand to the green stakes so that they could flap and flutter in the breeze. I then added strips from an old towel for variety.
Next, it was off to a local Dollar Store for some pinwheels. There, I struck gold — or rather a rainbow, a shimmering pinwheel of colors. When I reached the cash register to pay for my secret weapon, the male cashier said, “How are you today, little man?”
First, this was not a time to mention my lack of height. Superheroes come in all shapes and sizes. Second, just because I’m a 52-year-old man purchasing glittery pinwheels without a child in sight does not mean that I’m reliving some childhood memory.
I’m a soldier dressing my plants for battle. I’m a member of the few, the proud, the gardeners.
With my pinwheels in the middle of each pot, I’m hoping there will be a constant wind to keep iguanas out. If not, I will have to dig up plants, repot them, and move them to the iguana-free front yard. In the meantime, my garden now looks like a Renaissance fair — or at the very least, a throwaway prop from the classic ‘80s video “Safety Dance,” by Men Without Hats.
See what I mean.
At the moment, it’s still too soon to dance, even if I wanted to. I just know that these iguanas don’t dance, and if they don’t dance, then they’re no friends of mine.