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6/29/17- The Japanese Climbing Fern

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.

By: Meaghan English

My name is Meaghan English, a wildlife specialist with TrueSouth. I graduated from Auburn University with a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Ecology and Management and I have grown up with a passion for hunting. I knew from an early age that I was not only interested in the harvesting of wildlife, but I was also very interested in their biology and management. I decided that I not only wanted to be a wildlife enthusiast, I want to be an educated wildlife specialist. I will be using that grand education as a member of the TrueSouth team contributing wildlife blog articles!

My first hunting memory flashes back to when I was six or seven years old. Like any other Saturday during deer season, my dad had told my mom to get me ready because we were going hunting. Of course I was ecstatic! I was not ecstatic about the hair bow my mom made me wear with my camouflage (she wanted everyone to know I was in fact a fashionable girl). The entire way to Perdue Hill, Alabama, my dad told me that today would be the first day I would actually shoot my first deer and I knew I was ready. We pulled up to the camp, unloaded, and fed all the “camp cats”. Before we headed to our stand, I had spotted three kittens that I simply could not leave behind so I stuffed them in my jacket. After walking what seemed like five miles, we finally made it to the “Pressbox stand” (with my smuggled kittens) and sat down. Dad continuously pestered me to be quiet, but I wasn’t that worried about shooting a deer, I had kittens! Eventually, the sun began to sink behind the trees and a spike (without olfactory senses) entered the field. When it was safe to quietly move, dad handed me the gun and I handed him my three kittens. I slowly pulled the gun up and placed my cheek against the stock. Dad told me to breathe slowly and pull the trigger when I was ready. Sure enough, I pulled the trigger and the spike hit the ground. We high-fived, exchanged kittens again, and climbed down to see the kill. It certainly was not a wall hanger, but a huge chapter in my life was started that night. My dad and I still hunt together to this day and we practice quality deer management at all times.

My ultimate goal is to provide clients with a survey of flora and fauna that currently inhabit a specific tract of land and, if desired, how to properly manage that land for the species that are found there. All feedback is greatly appreciated and I look forward to working with you!

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