, Volume 1, Issue 2-3, pp 223-236

Establishment and Control of Hay-scented Fern: A Native Invasive Species

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Abstract

Hay-scented fern (Dennstaedtia punctilobula (Michx.) Moore) is a native forest understory species that behaves as an invasive plant under certain conditions. Previous work has shown that both increased understory light intensity following overstory thinning and removal of competing plants by herbivores can lead to accelerated growth of hay-scented fern, allowing it to develop dense, nearly monospecific understories that inhibit tree seedling regeneration. To study the relationship between these two factors, we sampled 28 forest stands thinned at different times and subjected to different levels of browsing by white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), and concluded that more than 15 years of intensive browsing following thinning was necessary for ferns to form closed understory canopies with densities of >90 fronds/m2 and canopy heights of 60–80 cm; thinning alone or intensive browsing alone was not sufficient to cause this level of fern invasion. We applied three treatments to dense fern understories to determine the relative importance of the fern canopy and the dense mat of roots, rhizomes, and dead fronds in the inhibition of tree seedling establishment. Results after two years were: (1) complete removal of the organic mat produced a large germination response of woody and herbaceous species; (2) mixing the organic mat into the mineral soil produced an initial germination response but poor seedling survivorship, as the fern canopy regrew to near pretreatment density; (3) repeatedly clipping the ferns for two years without disturbing the organic mat resulted in a lower germination response than the removal treatment, but rapid growth of seedlings.