Iguana Apocalypse


Dipladenia

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.

Iguanas.

Iguana

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.

Dipladenia

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. . .

Dipladenia

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.

Dipladenia

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?

Iguana

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.

Iguana

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.

Iguana

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.

Dipladenia

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.

47 thoughts on “Iguana Apocalypse

    • Hey John. Sadly, in south Florida, iguanas do not have many predators. There are birds who will eat iguana eggs. Once iguanas get large, though, the predators are few. One predator is man, because there are some cultures that eat iguana meat. I often wonder why we don’t have a hunting season on these reptiles.

  1. OMG, what they did to that dipladenia is just criminal — yikes! Love your solutions, and you know … the whirly/sparkly setup actually doesn’t look much different from some garden-decor ads I’ve seen now and again, LOL. And your last paragraph immediately brought to mind a tweak of that Loggins & Messina song: “Your iguana don’t dance and your lizards don’t rock ‘n’ roll…” (sorry, couldn’t resist!)

  2. I felt like I was in a action packed movie just waiting for Tom Cruise to come out and save the day ! But alas it was only Kevin alone on this very important recognizance mission!

    • Hello Michele. You and me both — each day I inspect, I do think the iguanas are somehow circumnavigating my efforts. Or maybe it’s my imagination. I do think, though, I’ve steered them to other plants: geraniums and begonias. Ugh!

  3. Odie, my green iguana, is thrilled with your post! She’s eyeing that handsome male in the second picture. She just jumped up on the table so she could get a better look at him and I think she wants me to check out Expedia for airfare prices from South Florida.

    Have you thought about planting something like collard greens along the bank? Maybe the annoying critters would fill up on collards and leave your whatever-it’s-called alone.

  4. I am with your side on zombies and this is mean but I don’t care for reptiles. Too much like dinosaurs which I don’t care for either and see China found some dinosaur eggs mummified and then I was afraid some ur-idiot would try to somehow genetically recreate their mother and father. I hope your inventiveness works and I don’t think my idea would work-some type of super glue paper set around the plants, but then I saw the claws on the reptile in your picture I thought, um, probably not! Best wishes and thank you for an enjoyable post!

    • Hi Karen. Thanks for your comments. Funny that you mentioned the re-creation of dinosaurs. Each time I read articles about scientists trying to do such a thing, I wonder, “Didn’t you ever see ‘Jurassic Park’? It doesn’t end well.” All I know is that if they’re successful in bringing back dinosaurs, I’m gonna need bigger pinwheels and more ribbon! 🙂

  5. Oh how terrible for your plants. I’m surprised some of those websites didn’t offer advice like ‘Iguanas are intelligent reptiles: simply place a sign in English and Spanish advising them to keep out of the property’ as a means to protecting the plants 🙂 I’ve heard they stay away from Oleanders due to the poisonous sap, and, if you can get a mature plumeria (which grow easily from 6′ -9′ branch cuttings) that too, might survive. Good luck 🙂

  6. Oh I shouldn’t laugh (snigger), but it does make our fight with slugs n snails (snort) over here in Blighty seem quite trivial (gafaw).
    I say chuck out the flowers and have a garden full of pinwheels and glittery string and an industrial fan, poised ready for those windless days.
    Lol….feeling your pain 😉

    • Hi Diane. They are definitely a conversation piece, but they’re also dinner (and breakfast and lunch) guests that I’d prefer not to have. I welcome them sunbathing — just not feasting. 🙂

    • Well, Bittster, if the native habitats ever need some replacements, I’m more than happy to make a donation. 🙂 I understand they are a delicacy, but I’m not that much of a foodie.

  7. If only real life had so many clever turns of phrase we might all be a little happier. A friend in childhood had both a pet iguana and a pet cat until one day he only had a pet cat. Something to consider if your plants tire of the circus life.

    • Hi PD. It’s always good to find some laughter. I think that’s how the iguanas while away the day — I think they’re laughing at me, the human who slaps flip flops together and chases them away. Silly humans. 🙂

      • Hehe. I often think dogs and cats do the same with their humans. “The wall already has stuff on it, why are you smearing stinky stuff on it again?” (While painting.) “Didn’t you just put those in there?” (Emptying the dishwasher.)

  8. They say red pepper repels squirrels. What if you placed a pile of red pepper at each end of the seawall. Walk in it and it burns, eat it and it burns. If nothing else they’ll be seasoned when and if you decide to eat one.
    Dad

    • Hey Dad. Fortunately, I haven’t reached the point where I’m eating iguana kebobs. 🙂 Red pepper is a great idea, but I would have to rig it so that it falls like snow over the yard. The iguanas not only walk along the seawall, but they also climb up the seawall from the canal or descend from the trees. They mean business.

  9. It sounds as though Iguana-resistant plants are sort of like deer-resistant plants; it’s a designation conferred by someone who just hasn’t yet met the animal hungry enough to eat one of these plants.

    • Well said, Jean. Right now, I’m working on trial and error. I’ve removed some the decimated morsels to my plant nursery and I’m trying replacement plants, while making note of what they do not eat. The things we do . . .

  10. My heart goes out to you, while my garden isn’t plagued by Iguanas eating my plants, it is nearly overtaken by the smaller cousin the Anole, here in Central Florida and while I haven’t noticed too much damage to my plants I can barely take a step with out nearly stepping on one. I have had them crawl up my arm while weeding. One particular fellow sat on my shoulder for 30 minutes apparently wooing a female. They are constantly getting in the house and too often I find the bodies in a light fixture while dusting, I chase babies around the house to catch and release, I’m going to hit the dollar stores in the area and buy all the pinwheels I can find, I don’t mind it looking like a renaissance fair and perhaps the pinwheels will keep the squirrels at bay. Happy Gardening

    • Hi Deborah. I also have anoles scurrying all over the place — and I’ve had the anxiety of trying to get a stray one out of the house. For the most part, though, they help out with mosquitoes and stay away from eating my garden. By the way, the iguanas mocked my pinwheels and ribbons. I’ve since removed the plants to a safe place — but I’m using the pinwheels for decorations throughout the garden. Thanks for commenting.

  11. I spent Christmas in the Keys and the iguanas were everywhere. I didn’t realize they ate plants! I thought they were carnivores. Maybe dragging home a python from the Everglades will be the best solution. 😉

    • Don’t even mention the pythons! They’re also an invasive species down here and can single-handedly change the ecosystem of the Everglades. They really have no predators — but they do eat the natural predators and prey in this natural resource. Scary stuff. Hope you enjoyed your stay in the Keys.

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  14. Funny thing is that I think I would put plants out JUST to feed the iguanas! I love reptiles, if you can’t tell that from my Gravatar. There’s always some hungry critter in the garden of flowers and fruits, which is why I refrain from calling anything I put in the ground as ‘mine.’ I just let them munch and enjoy watching them instead, finding joy where others might not. Cheers!

    PS — our green anole is the insect lion of my backyard garden. Little dinos. Love ’em.

    • Hi Shannon. I have a fine relationship with anoles — and I do like seeing the iguanas, and I might be okay with one or two stopping by for lunch . . . But an army of them? Nope, can’t do it. I’ll send some your way. 🙂 Thanks for commenting.

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  17. Any progress? I’m having the same problem now and wanted to know if you came up with any more good solutions.

    • Hello Smiling Lady. At the moment, I have the plants potted into their own pots. While the iguanas seem to be ignoring them, the aphids aren’t. So, I’m doing a lot of bare-handed squeezing and/or rinsing off the leaves. I’m also not sure how long it will take for flowers to start.

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