Bloomin’ Update 57: Iguana Be Sedated


Croton

There are cold-blooded stalkers among us, watching everything we do, knowing when we’re not around, taunting us with their teeth and tails. “They” are iguanas, and as many of you know, they and they’re insatiable appetites are a constant battle for my garden and me.

Think I’m kidding? The plant at the top of this post is croton, a tropical shrub bursting with colorful foliage in the front yard, which — so far — is a sort of iguana-free space. Here is a photo of the same plant in the backyard.

Croton

My backyard and those of my neighbors are prime real estate for iguanas because we’re on a canal. They can often be seen sunbathing on seawalls, sliding down from the tree canopy, and using the canal as a super-highway to get from one buffet to the next. Although awkward on land, they are amazing swimmers.

Maybe — maybe — my creatures in the canal aren’t exactly like The Creature From The Black Lagoon, but there is little doubt that this iguana season has been more extreme. Because there wasn’t a cold snap last winter and because they have no predators, iguanas are everywhere. They’ve even started to cross streets and venture into gardens and yards that aren’t even close to water.

My only pleasure in this is that I’m no longer the only homeowner amusing the neighbors on the other side of the canal with my wild-stomping-towel-waving-iguana-startling dance.   More of us are now putting on iguana-scaring shows and talking about the iguana invasion — and we are all hoping a cold snap will arrive this winter.

Iguana

They’re also wondering what to plant, since iguanas are famous for eating flowers. Local cooperative extension websites offer suggestions, but I’ve found that my particular iguanas have never read the “Iguanas Won’t Eat” list of plants.

The result is that I have very few flowers in my backyard. No hibiscus. No bougainvillea. No mandevilla.  No colorful blooms that scream tropical wonderland.

Through trial-and-error plantings and foliage choices, though, I’ve managed to create a space with color.  Here, then, is a glimpse at what’s growing because iguanas have no interest in them.

Bromeliad

Bromeliads are my go-to plant.  They’re easy to grow, provide color, and come in all sizes.  Some grow low the the ground, while others send up tall blades of tough leaves.  Some have flowers deep in the cup, while others send up towering flower spikes.

Bromeliad

They’re also drought tolerant, holding water deep in the cup — and this also happens to be the major concern for gardeners in the Age of Zika.  Many are hesitant to plant bromeliads because the cup water is often a breeding swamp for mosquitoes.  To combat this, I regularly flush out the old water with a burst from the hose.

Bridal Bouquet

Bridal bouquet is a type of plumeria, and I planted several between our shed and fence so the neighbor wouldn’t have to look at our shed.  Once the plant grew upward into the sunlight, its crown filled with clusters of white flowers.  Here’s a closeup.

Bridal Bouquet

 Purple queen is a low-growing plant, often used as a ground cover.  It’s an easy way to add a mass of color, especially when the plant takes hold.  Iguanas nibble at it, but they quickly lose interest.  The only real damage is the broken stems when iguanas sit among them — but these can easily be rooted and then planted.

Purple Queen

The color is a great complement to bright green.  Here, I let it mingle with clusia or autograph plant, a shrub with leathery leaves that iguanas completely avoid.  Clusia can be pruned and shaped to keep it in bounds.

Purple Queen and Clusia

A South Florida native, coco plum is often used as a hedge.  It’s fast growing, and new growth has a reddish blush that fades to green — and it makes fruit, which everything but iguanas seem to enjoy.

Coco Plum

This is sansevieria, also known as snake plant, also known as mother-in-law’s tongue, also known as an indoor plant in most parts of the country.  In South Florida, it does great outside — too great, in fact.   This is actually a shoot from my neighbor’s plant that traveled under the fence and popped up on my side.  I’m a greater danger to the plant than iguanas.  They leave it alone, but I’m always removing any wanderers.

Sansevieria

Iguanas tend to avoid leaves that are thick and tough, and few plants are as thick and tough as agave.  While walking around the yard, I spotted this sword-like blade of a blue agave piercing through a clerodendrum leaf.

Blue Agave

Pineapples, technically, are bromeliads, but they deserve a special mention.  In addition to some edible pineapples that I have growing — no fruit yet — I also have some decorative pineapples.  Although inedible, they are flowers.

Pineapple

Not only do the plants produce pups, or off-shoots, that can be separate and planted, the tops of the pineapples can also be removed to make more plants.

Besides, the stiff foliage provides a nice resting place for the lizards I like, the ones that eat insects.

Lizard

Finally, there are the succulents, and this is a constant learning process for me.  Some that I’ve planted have been devoured, while others have done beautifully.

Succulents

And some, like the echeveria below, will even produce flowers.

Succulent

 Whether I like it or not, iguanas are not going away.  I doubt there will be an organized hunting season to lower their numbers, and cold snaps are not a guarantee during South Florida winters.

As a gardener, I’ve had to adapt — as we’ve all had to do as a result of whatever is thrown our way — and I, for one, refuse to be bullied out of the garden by The Iguanas That Ate Florida.

24 thoughts on “Bloomin’ Update 57: Iguana Be Sedated

    • Hi Gwennie. They’re herbivores. Because they’re invasive, they do not have any natural predators here — so all they do is eat, poop, and reproduce. Even if I fed them lettuce, they would eat it and then turn their attention to the landscaping plants. They’re relentless.

  1. Finally one garden plague I don’t have to worry about! I haven’t seen an iguana in its natural habitat. But when Darwin the tortoise gets out of his confined space he begins to forage on my succulents and can do an amazing amount damage in a very short time. I have also learned that there are some he is happy to avoid! Maintaining a healthy garden really does require amazing resilience at times and adapting to iguana “deforestation” is about as unique as it comes!

    • Hi Debra. I often think iguanas have bottomless stomachs. They just eat and eat and eat. It’s interesting to note, though, that in Central America, where iguanas are from, people trap them and eat them — which makes me wonder why we don’t have some sort of hunting season here — especially since they’re an invasive species. My best to Darwin. 🙂

  2. I’m lucky enough to be far enough away from water that I haven’t been invaded….and hopefully won’t be! but if they keep multiplying, no telling how far they will go for food. Maybe we should be researching recipes and humane ways to kill them to keep them from taking over!
    Great post Kevin! Love your writing! …and pictures!

    • Hi Linda. I do hope the invasion doesn’t reach your garden! I think at this point, it’s a major south Florida issue — on the same level as pythons and boa constrictors in the Everglades, giant African snails in backyards, and Zika-carrying mosquitoes in Miami. We seem to be ground zero for invasive species, and without funding and awareness (and a cold snap), their numbers will only rise.

  3. It’s always nice to know about a garden scourge I don’t have to deal with. 😉 It sounds as though “Iguanas won’t eat” lists have a lot in common with lists of “deer resistant” plants — neither the iguanas nor the deer have read the lists!

    • Hi Jean. I’ve seen gardens wrapped in screen to keep out iguanas — and they remind me of the screened barriers I saw on Long Island to keep out deer. I’m not wishing I had deer to deal with, but I must admit, Bambi is a lot cuter than “The Reptile That Ate Florida.” 🙂

    • Hi Donna. It’s on a par with selecting plants that are deer-proof. In other words, it’s a losing battle, although there are some plants that iguanas will simply not eat. If truth be told, though, I enjoyed watching fifteen iguanas — a herd, if your will — munching across the lawn before there was a garden. They were a definite conversation starter. They did, however, cross a line as they started eating as quickly as I was planting. What’s planted today is gone tomorrow. Grrrr.

  4. Hi Kevin, I love your blog and enjoy reading your gardening trials and triumphs…here on Vancouver Island we don’t have an iguana problem, but the little island deer are very voracious and love to eat whatever their heart desires…as one of the earlier commenters posted…they don’t read the list of things they don’t like to eat…this past summer they ate all of my tomatoes, some newly planted perennials and various other plants you would not expect them to like, as of right now they are eating the grapes and plums that they can reach and making some of the funniest faces you have ever seen…oh well, the joys of gardening and working the soil still outweigh the annoying creatures who torment our gardens…:)

    • Hi Abigail. I have yet to see an iguana make a funny face. They always seem grouchy. 🙂 I wish there was a way to plant something for them with the understanding that other plants in the yard are off-limits. Thanks for commenting!

  5. You must write for a living because that was the most funny,eloquent bitch about those critters! There are indeed so many more this year because of several mild winters. Most cities do have guidelines as to “humane” ways to remove some. In my first house here in 1999(ironically there is a pic of me laying on the ground feeding what I thought was the only iguana in the wild a piece of sweet potatoe vine…we learn the hard way sometimes). I battled them for a long time and gave up…it’s all bamboo now. Something important to mention about them is that they carry salmonella(and other things) and can be very dangerous for those with compromised immune systems. Good luck on your(our) battle!

    • Hi Howie. Thanks for mentioning the salmonella! Yet another reason to add them to my evil garden critters list! Glad you enjoyed the post — and thanks for commenting.

  6. Love this!! Met you yesterday, “propagating clusia”… Love the writing, tell it like it is with a bite..- definitely gonna try to make it to Garden Club. xo Rose

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