By Meaghan English, TrueSouth Properties Wildlife Specialist
A fern is one species of flora that comes in all shapes and sizes. Some are shade tolerant while others thrive in the sunlight. Many homeowners in the south have ferns hanging from one end of the front porch to the other. However, all ferns are not so welcoming. Japanese Climbing Fern is one of the most detrimental invasive species to a southern forest.
Lygodium japonicum is an unsuspecting invasive species because of its outward appearance. It is native to Asia and tropical Australia, but arrived in Florida from Japan in the 1930s. Unfortunately, it is popular in the ornamental world and is quickly invading much of the southeast United States. Its leaves are very small and intricate and it grows on a long and twisting vine. Some gardeners and other botany-loving individuals are fooled by the “lacy” leaves and thin vines, but do not be fooled. The vine can climb and twist its way up a tree, fence post, or the side of a house. It can reach up to 90 feet long and can quickly infiltrate an area. Sometimes, it becomes so dense it forms mats along the forest floor or even cover shrubs. Although thin, the stems are extremely difficult to break, which makes the climbing fern even more prolific. When burning, the fern becomes a stairway for fire to climb to the canopies of trees. Many trees have been severely scorched or even killed due to fire reaching the canopy via Japanese climbing fern. Furthermore, it appears in other places besides forests. It can be found along highways and interstates, especially where there are bridges and overpasses for climbing. It is usually one of the pioneer species to appear quickly after a burn or any applied forest management, which makes it nearly impossible to be controlled. Even when it dies back in winter, the dead vines provide a ladder for the next generation. The fern is dispersed by spores and colonizes by rhizomes. The tiny spores are distributed by pine straw, clothing, and even tractors and other equipment that have been used in southern forests riddled with Japanese climbing fern. It also thrives in swampy habitats or along stream banks. Because prescribed burning seems to add fuel to Japanese climbing ferns, the best control method is an herbicide with containing glyphosate. It is best to attempt to remove growth by hand or by mowing, and then apply herbicide to new growth.
It is very important to inspect every inch of your property for this invasive species, especially before a prescribed burn. The fern can also choke out native shrubs and trees by forming dense mats over the native species. Although delicate in appearance, the Japanese Climbing Fern is a ferocious invasive fern that will cause havoc for the health of your forest.
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