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Exotic Invaders of the Florida Panhandle

Tarzan used them as a superhighway through the trees in every adventure created by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  Villains and scoundrels alike fell prey to the ape-man and his horde of avenging simians descending on vines from the trees.

Great fiction, but removed from the reality of present day panhandle Florida.  This is especially true about the vines which are impossible to use as a propulsion system and in many cases are exotic invaders.

Kudzu Vines Covering native vegetation - Image Credit Les Harrison UF IFAS

Kudzu Vines Covering native vegetation – Image Credit Les Harrison UF IFAS

The most infamous is Kudzu (Pueraria montana), sometimes known as the weed that ate the south.  It was introduced into the United States at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876.

By 1900 kudzu was available by mail order as inexpensive livestock forage, and later sold by the USDA as an erosion control.  The vigorous nature of the plant allowed it easily to escape into the wild.

It now exists in impenetrable tangles as large as 100 acres killing trees, covering structures, and smothering native plants. Kudzu is an aggressive leguminous vine capable of growing one foot per day. It can easily grow 60 feet in a single growing season.

It establishes roots sporadically as it covers an area, layering vines and foliage on top of each other. One key to this plant’s efficiency is its ability to orient each leaf so that the maximum amount of sunlight possible is absorbed. This multi-directional orientation of leaves also poses special problems with sufficiently wetting the top sides of foliage with herbicide.

Special effort is necessary to control kudzu. Older, well established plants are harder to control and completely eradicate. Follow-up spot treatments can require five to ten years in extreme cases. For easiest access, it is best to evaluate kudzu problems in winter when vines and foliage are withered.

Japanese Climbing Fern - Image Credit Les Harrison UF IFAS

Japanese Climbing Fern – Image Credit Les Harrison UF IFAS

Japanese Climbing Fern (Lygodium japonicum) is another aggressive exotic invasive, but not as commonly recognized as Kudzu.  It is presently the only non-native invasive fern in the Florida.

Japanese climbing fern is a delicate looking perennial climbing vine.  It is capable of forming a dense mat-like thatch capable of covering trees and shrubs. Initially, it was introduced from Japan as an ornamental.

This fern reproduces and spreads readily by wind-blown spores. Animals, equipment, and even people who move through an area with climbing ferns are very likely to pick up spores and move them to other locations.

It is scattered throughout the lower portions of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, South Carolina, and much of Florida, including panhandle. Planting or cultivation of this vine for ornamental purposes is prohibited by statute.

Both vines have many negative attributes. Among these are crowding out native vegetation, harboring destructive insects and diseases, and providing a fire bridge to the crown of unlucky trees.

Adequate control of both exotic vines has been achieved with multiple applications of herbicides.  As with most invasive plants, repeated and correctly timed treatments are likely to be necessary.


Contact your local UF IFAS  Extension office for more information

5 Comments on “Exotic Invaders of the Florida Panhandle

  1. I wish you would include a discussion of Cogongrass which is listed as one of the (if not #1) most noxious weeds in the world.

    I have it and it appeared after Hurricane Ivan. I have tried everything I have read about it to remove it, without success.
    I am desperate as it is now in my flower garden.

    Will appreciate any suggestions!

    • Sally thank you for your interest. We have several articles on cogongrass on our ag site and in our archives. See the links below for more information.

      COGON GRASS ARTICLE: ID and Control of Cogongrass

      Cogongrass web site

      Cogongrass is best controlled with mixtures of glyphosate and imazapyr. This is typically done in pine forests, right of way areas or pastures. Home gardeners need to be careful when using such products since these herbicides will kill broadleaf perennials, shrubs and annuals. The only method I’d recommennd would be careful spot treatment with glyphosate by brushing on the product. Do not get any on the desirable plant material and follow all label directions. Do not incorporate imazapyr into the mix since it will keep the area bare for 6 months.

      The other alternative is to kill everything and start over once the cogongrass is 100% eradicated.

      • Thank you. I have been planning to use 10% of enhanced agricultural vinegar but was waiting for cooler weather as per a story on the web. In the Spring I will try the notorious Roundup, if necessary,

        Yes, I will keep trying!

  2. I have this vine in a few of my shrubs. I try to pull it out, but don’t get the roots as they are deep within the shrub. Is there a herbecide I can use on the vine that won’t harm the shrub? If not, how do I get rid of it?

    • Hello Joyce, Unfortunately, there is not a selective herbicide for the vine that will not harm the shrub as well.
      What I have had success with in the past is to wick or paint glyphosate (also sold as roundup, under many other names as well) on to the leaves of the vine, while being careful to not get even one drop on the desirable shrub. This may need to be repeated 2-3 times. It worked well for me. Always follow label directions when mixing and wear appropriate clothing according to the label directions. It is more effective in warmer weather.

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