They slink along canal banks, burrow under sidewalks and strike fear into the hearts of small dogs.
Iguanas have posed a challenge to South Florida communities for years, as the large reptiles continue to breed and spread using the region’s sprawling canal system as a conduit.
Wellington recently faced an issue caused by the growing number of iguanas along Southern Boulevard and the West Palm Beach Canal — and came up with a unique but seemingly simple solution.
Frustrated by the continued destruction of flowers in front of Wellington’s entrance signs along Southern, landscape and forestry operations supervisor Brian Hopper made a decision: Swap out the colorful flowers for another type of colorful plants. And have these colorful plants be ones iguanas do not like to eat.
“Brian got tired of having to replace them over and over again,” Village Manager Paul Schofield said.
According to a report from the University of Florida, the list of things iguanas enjoy eating is long and includes many plants popular in Florida landscaping: hibiscus, orchids, bougainvilleas, nasturtiums and turf grasses.
The list of iguana-repelling plants is much shorter and includes milkweed, oleander, citrus and some crotons, the UF report says. It also includes plants with tough, thick leaves. That’s where coleus comes in.
The brightly colored plant grows close to the ground and has thick, hearty leaves that iguanas reportedly hate, making it the perfect choice for Hopper, who recently ordered it to be planted in front of Wellington’s entrance signs along Southern Boulevard.
Frank Mazzotti, professor of wildlife at the University of Florida’s Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, said he had heard of homeowners swapping out plants to deter hungry iguanas, but this was his first time hearing of a municipality doing it. “I’m not surprised,” he said. “They have had a devastating effect on landscaping.”
Mazzotti has worked with exotic species for three decades and said he’s seen iguanas “wipe out” new planting of some species, making the creatures especially disruptive for farmers during the growing season.
In Wellington, a recent visit to the Wellington sign at Southern Boulevard and Big Blue Trace showed promise. The coleus were there, bright in the afternoon sun after a rain storm — with not a nibble to be seen, despite several iguanas lurking nearby.
Plants iguanas like to eat
- Pink pentas
- Garden greens, including kale, broccoli, mustard, collards, sorrel, beets and lettuces
- Squashes and melons
- Hong Kong orchid tree
- Purple Queen
- Turf grasses
- Weeds, including Spanish needles and frog fruit
- Most fruits and flowers
- Most tender new growth
Plants iguanas don’t like to eat
- Some pentas
- Some crotons
- Other toxic plants
- Tough, thick-leaved plants
Source: “Dealing with Iguanas in the South Florida Landscape” by William H. Kern, associate professor of urban entomology at the University of Florida’s Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center