Miconia trees with their ginormous green and purple leaves are invading botanic gardens all around the world. While the plant is aesthetically pleasing, it is also called the "green cancer" for its ability to claim and overwhelm new territories, according to researchers from the University of Alcalá.

A recent study revealed 91 countries that are at risk of being colonized by these invasive plants, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has named the miconia tree (Miconia calvescens) one of the world's 100 most invasive species, according to a news release.

"This plant colonizes the entire surface area of the territories it invades, forming monospecific stands that prevent sunlight from reaching the stratum below them. As a result of this plant's presence, between 40 and 50 of the plants native to Tahiti have disappeared. It is extremely difficult to eradicate the miconia tree once it has invaded a new territory," Noelia González-Muñoz, one of the study researchers from the University of Alcalá explained, adding that its roots and all parts of the root system must be completely eliminated from the soil in order to exterminate the plant given its great ability to grow back.

Even worse: the plant, also known as the velvet tree, has can reproduce alone and via vegetative propagation, easily spreading its seeds. Ultimately, this has enabled the plants to break free from the private gardens they were originally planted in and spread through hectares of tropical forests around the world. This includes 400 islands and 364 protected areas outside the plant's native range that are nonetheless susceptible to being overrun by it, according to the study.

By 2080, however, worldwide land suitable for velvet trees will be cut in half as a result of climate change. This habitat decline is expected to mostly occur in the plant's native ranges.

"The results thus predict an interesting two-fold negative impact on the potential world-wide distribution of the miconia plant resulting from global warming since a decrease in potentially affected areas in overrun territories would be minimum," González-Muñoz concluded.

The study also includes a list of public and private botanic gardens that house miconia tress, so that effective measures can be taken to prevent the plants from spreading. Their findings were recently published in the journal Biological Invasions.  

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