Overview

Brief Summary

History in the United States

The velvet tree was brought to Hawaii in 1960 as an ornamental plant. Although initially sold at nurseries for its appealing foliage, it was officially named a Hawaii State Noxious Weed in 1992.

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Distribution

National Distribution

United States

Origin: Exotic

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Unknown/Undetermined

Confidence: Confident

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Distribution in the United States

Velvet tree is found on four of the eight main islands of Hawaii (Oahu and Hawaii Islands, Maui, and Kauai).

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Native Range

South America
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Physical Description

Morphology

Description

Velvet tree is an evergreen tree that grows to about 50 feet in height when mature. Its large (up to 3 feet long), attractive leaves are dark green above and purple underneath, with three distinct veins that run roughly parallel from the base to the tip of the leaf. Flowering and fruiting begin after four to five years, when trees are about 12 feet tall, and can reoccur several times per year. Flowers are numerous, sweet-scented, white to pink in color, and very short-lived (12-24 hours after opening). The dark purple fruits are about one-half inch in diameter, sweet-tasting, and very attractive to birds.

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Type Information

Isotype for Miconia velutina Triana
Catalog Number: US 1480604
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Botany
Verification Degree: Original publication and alleged type specimen examined
Preparation: Pressed specimen
Collector(s): L. Schlim
Locality: Ocasia Prov., Colombia, South America
Elevation (m): 1067 to 1067
  • Isotype: Triana, J. J. 1873. Trans. Linn. Soc. London. 28: 113.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat in the United States

The velvet tree occupies neotropical forests. It can be found as high as 6500 feet in elevation but also threatens lower elevations that receive high average annual rainfall of 6 to 7 feet or more.

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Life History and Behavior

Reproduction

Biology and Spread

After four or five years of age, velvet trees can flower and produce seed, which remains viable in soil for five or more years. Each velvet tree plant can produce an estimated three million seeds, several times each year, creating a massive soil seed bank. Birds are the primary vectors for dispersal of velvet tree seeds but, because the seeds stick to shoes, clothing, tires and other materials, humans also contribute to the spread of this noxious tree.

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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: NNA - Not Applicable

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: GNR - Not Yet Ranked

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Risks

Ecological Threat in the United States

Velvet tree stands create a dense canopy of shade that native plants cannot tolerate, but its own seedlings can. Masses of it ensure very little light reaches the ground. The shallow root system of velvet tree allows for increased soil erosion in previously more stable areas.

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Wikipedia

Miconia calvescens

"Bush Currant" redirects here. Not to be confused with Currant Bush (Carissa spinarum).

Miconia calvescens, the velvet tree, miconia, or bush currant, is a species of flowering plant in the family Melastomataceae. It is native to Mexico and Central and South America[1] and it has become one of the world's most invasive species.

Miconia trees can flower several times a year and bear fruit simultaneously. The inflorescences are large panicles of white to light pink blossoms. The tiny purple fruits are about half a centimeter in diameter and packed with about 120–230 minuscule seeds. The sweet fruits are attractive to birds and other animals which disperse the seeds. A young tree with only two flower panicles can produce 200,000 seeds in its first fruiting season. This heavy seed production and potential for long-distance dispersal help make miconia an invasive threat. The seeds can lie dormant in the soil of the forest for more than 12 years, and whenever a break in the canopy allows sun to shine through to a patch of soil the seeds there undergo germination. Once the plants grow to full height, their enormous leaves shade out all the space below them, preventing any other plant from growing nearby. It also has a shallow root system that facilitates soil erosion.[2]

The tree can grow to a height of 15 metres (49 ft) and has very large leaves, each up to 1 metre (3.3 ft) in length. Its purple and green leaves with flashy white veining made it attractive as an ornamental, and it was imported to Hawaii and other new areas in the mid-twentieth century.

Invasive species[edit]

The Invasive Species Specialist Group list the tree as one of the world's 100 most invasive species in the Global Invasive Species Database.[3]

The seeds are dispersed from gardens into natural forest habitats by fruit-eating birds. Once dispersed into tropical moist forests it takes hold vigorously, invading any spot in the understory that receives patches of sunlight, and becomes a noxious weed.

It is known for being the worst invasive plant in Hawaii, where it is commonly referred to as the "purple plague", and threatens to destroy entire ecosystems. Hawaiian populations of miconia were first discovered in the 1990s, and since the plant's invasive potential was already well-known, control and eradication efforts began immediately. Uprooting and herbicides are used to remove plants, but biological control has not yet met with great success. Teams of volunteers often lead expeditions into the forest to remove miconia plants by hand.

The tree has become an invasive species in Tahiti and a quarter of the rainforest on the island is now made up of miconia stands. For this reason, it is frequently called the "green cancer" on the island.

In Sri Lanka it invades upcountry mountain forest areas. It forms monospecific stands that shade out native vegetation.[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Miconia calvescens". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 1997-12-10. Retrieved 2009-02-07. 
  2. ^ Lalith Gunasekera, Invasive Plants: A guide to the identification of the most invasive plants of Sri Lanka, Colombo 2009, p. 103–104.
  3. ^ "100 of the World's Worst Invasive Alien Species". Global Invasive Species Database. Retrieved 3 August 2012. 
  4. ^ Lalith Gunasekera, Invasive Plants: A guide to the identification of the most invasive plants of Sri Lanka, Colombo 2009, p. 103–104.
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