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May Clobber Climbing Fern
By Marcia Wood
February 26, 2002
Climbing fern, an aggressive vine
that is spreading in central and south Florida, might be stopped by a team of
two tiny moths. Scientists know climbing fern as Lygodium microphyllum.
It climbs stems or trunks of other plants, forming blankets of light-green
On the ground, climbing fern creates tough, spongy mats that can easily
smother grasses, low-growing shrubs and small trees. Today, it infests more
than 100,000 acres in Florida.
Agricultural Research Service
scientists are scrutinizing the fern-eating moths and other natural enemies of
this weed. Both moths are about a half inch from wingtip to wingtip. One
species, Cataclysta camptozonale, is bright white, with some spots and
stripes on its wings. The other moth, Neomusotima conspurcatalis, has
dark-brown wings that are edged with white and sprinkled with small, white,
Climbing fern is native to Australia, but it is not a pest there, perhaps
because natural enemies keep it in check. Scientists at the
Biological Control Laboratory in Indooroopilly are ideally situated to find
and test promising natural organisms--such as the moths--to control the weed.
The Indooroopilly scientists extensively tested the moths to make sure the
insects preferred to eat old world climbing fern and not other plants. They
next shipped a supply of both moths to Florida for further testing by
colleagues at the
Invasive Plant Research Laboratory at Gainesville. After completing more
tests, the Florida team may seek federal and state permission to turn the moths
loose at climbing fern-infested sites in Florida.
With further research, a third moth, a hungry mite, a small beetle, and
perhaps other hardworking organisms as well may qualify to join the moths in
attacking the weed.
ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agricultures chief scientific research agency.