The Plantation Field Laboratory, as a branch of the University of Florida Everglades Experiment Station , Belle Blade, Florida, was established in 1953 at SW 12th St. (Peter’s Rd.), Plantation, Florida on the 90-acre site of the former Peter’s family ranch. The use of the land was provided by Mr. Fred Peters, Sr. on a 25-year lease with the understanding that the land was to be used to advance the knowledge of agriculture in south Florida. The objective of the laboratory was to conduct research on problems of vegetable and forage crops on sandy soils of the lower east coast of Florida. In 1954, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Soil and Water Conservation Research unit established a hydrological research project to investigate the hydrology of several Florida watersheds. John C. “Jake” Stephens led the project. It was during this time that Jake undertook early research on soil subsidence of the muck soils adjacent to Lake Okeechobee. He also began the first work in Florida on control of aquatic weeds infesting streams and canals, impeding water flow for drainage and irrigation.
A cooperative field survey in 1957 revealed a serious widespread invasion of alligatorweed in the waterways and adjacent areas of south Florida.
This led to an intensified and expanded aquatic weed research program at the Plantation location by the addition of Dr. Donald Seaman in 1957.
He established the present ARS program which was then in the Crops Research Division, Crops Protection Research Branch, with F. L. Timmons as the Investigations Leader and W. B. Ennis as the Branch Chief.
In November, 1959, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and ARS entered into a cooperative agreement to conduct research on the control of aquatic weeds and as a result, support facilities were expanded and additional personnel were added in the persons of Mr. Robert Blackburn (Botanist, 1959), Dr. Lyle Weldon (Agronomist, 1960), and Dr. Kerry K. Steward (Plant Physiologist, 1966).
Recognizing the need for an expanded facility, the University of Florida procured, through GSA, 100 acres of surplus land at Forman Field in Davie, Florida.
This land was formerly a WW II naval air training facility.
The move to the new location began in July 1968 and finished in June 1969.
The ARS moved existing buildings from the Plantation field station to the Davie location and these building are still in use.
A new quarantine facility now sits adjacent to the original ARS facilities.The focus of the aquatic weed research was broadened in the late 1950s and early 1960s as concern for waterhyacinth problems became greater and after hydrilla was introduced into the state.
Dr. David Perkins joined the lab in 1973 to conduct research on newly released waterhyacinth biological control agents.
Dr. Perkins was succeeded in 1978 by Dr. Ted Center.
In 1989 melaleuca control became a research priority and in 1994, after Dr. Center was appointed Research Leader, the program emphasis began a shift towards biological control research, particulary biological control of melaleuca.
Biological control projects had previously been implemented on alligatorweed (1963-1971), waterhyacinth (1971-1977), hydrilla (1984-present), and waterlettuce (1986-present).
Today, the lab in Davie, now called the Invasive Plant Research Laboratory or IPRL, has a staff of 31 scientists, technicians and support personnel, working in nine laboratories.