BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. – Fire crews with the National Park Service have been igniting controlled fires in the Florida Everglades to control an invasive vine that’s been wreaking havoc on the native ecosystem.
The plant, called Lygodium Microphyllum - and also known as Old World Climbing Fern - is a stealthy and invasive plant that was likely introduced as decorative vegetation that made its way into the Everglades in 1999.
While many may think of the invasive Burmese python as a great threat to wildlife, scientists like Dr. Ellen Lake with the USDA Invasive Plant Research Lab in Davie say Lygodium could be more dangerous.
“This is a monster,” Lake said. “It can grow 40 to 60 feet long and it just outcompetes everything in its path.”
It can shade out vegetation, and according to the website for the University of Florida’s Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants: “Dense growth of the plant can also be a fire hazard, frequently enabling small ground fires to reach into tree canopies where it can kill the growing branches.”
Michael Gue, prescribed fire specialist with the National Park Service, said the vine can be easily spotted from a helicopter.
“If you’re flying across the Everglades, you can see across the ecosystem the patches of Old World Climbing Fern that’s sprouting up throughout the ecosystem,” Gue said.
“We’ve seen in Florida, in general, an increase in Lygodium so of course the Park Service is concerned,” said National Park Service botanist Hillary Cooley.
Last Thursday, Gue said crews burned about 9,000 acres in Everglades National Park to facilitate the health of native vegetation as well as to kill Lygodium.
“The Heat reduces the spores and kills the spores and prevents the spread of it,” he said. “A lot of these ecosystems are fire adaptive and, in many places, fire dependent. They actually need fire to remain healthy. When you take fire out of these ecosystems, we start seeing that intrusion of invasive species.”
Cooley, the botanist with the National Park Service, believes Lygodium is now covering about 1 to 2 percent of the park. While it might not be eradicated since it has already been established in the wild, the goal of scientists and land managers is to control its growth.
“I am optimistic that we will be able to manage it,” she said.