Editor's note: This is an occasional series from the Louisiana Master Naturalists of Greater Baton Rouge.
Coral ardisia, an ornamental plant sold for its dark green leaves and red berries, has been planted in landscapes for years. And no wonder: it’s pretty, grows to about 3 feet and requires no care.
The bad news is that it spreads with abandon and has taken over many of the hardwood forests in Louisiana.
The plant is a native of Southeast Asia, brought over to the U.S. in the 1800s. It thrives in low-light settings and establishes thick masses, crowding out native plants in the forest. And it's the native plants that are vital to keeping an ecosystem’s flora and fauna, and ultimately humans, alive.
“It is a serious problem across south Louisiana and growing problem in Central and North Louisiana,” said Brian Early, a botanist with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.
Louisiana Master Naturalists of Greater Baton Rouge is working to combat the invasive plant. Karen Pinsonat, chairwoman of the group's Habitat Restoration Committee, has organized teams who have put in many hours in local forests clearing out the plant.
Her mission, she said, is to have coral ardisia and other invasive plants banned in Louisiana.
“I started helping with the invasive species clearing over a year ago, starting with Chinese privet and tallow, but was amazed to see how bad the ardisia was," Pinsonat said. "It was a different monster.”
Florida listed coral ardisia as an invasive plant in 1995 and, in 2014, added it to the noxious weed list.
“In Florida it’s illegal to import, propagate, transport or sell the plant,” Pisonat said.
Also known as coral berry, Christmas berry, hen’s eyes, scratch throat, Australian holly, coral bush and spiceberry, coral ardisia bears a lot of fruit year-round. Once it has taken root, it’s hard to get rid of, as it quickly re-sprouts after being cut or burned.
Pinsonat and her volunteers have recently been working at Waddill Wildlife Refuge clearing out the ardisia by first clipping off the berries and disposing of them in bags, making sure not to spill any on the ground.
“The berries have an 84- to 98% germination rate, so the more seeds we collect, the better,” she said.
The plants are then lopped off using a swing weed cutter or dug up with shovels. Herbicide is sprayed to kill the new growth.
“We urge people not to buy or plant this in their yard. You can’t contain it. Not only do the roots spread, birds and other animals spread the seeds,” Pinsonat said.
Alternative landscape plants to use include dwarf yaupon, gallberry, American Holly or dwarf blueberry.
Other invasive, damaging plants on Pinsonat’s wish list for the state to prohibit include alligator weed, bush killer, camphor tree, common water hyacinth, Chinese holly, Japanese holly, Brazilian satin tail, Japanese privet, Chinese privet, European privet, sweet breath of spring, Japanese honeysuckle, Japanese climbing fern, nandina, catclaw vine, Chinaberry tree, Dallis grass, water paspalum, Vasey’s grass, Bradford pear and Chinese tallow.
Louisiana Master Naturalists of Greater Baton Rouge seeks to advance awareness, understanding, and stewardship of the natural environment. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.