LOWNDES COUNTY, Ga. (WCTV) -- Invasive species are taking over forests across South Georgia, and experts are asking the community to start taking action.
According to the Georgia Forestry Commission, Asian privet has taken over more than one million acres across Georgia, up by nearly double in six years. While the tree is spreading rapidly, it's not the only invasive species putting the area at risk.
Japanese climbing fern is one of the fastest growing invasive species in the region. Taking over forests in South Georgia and North Florida, the plant can grow up to 90 feet in just one year.
"You won't find just one leaf, you'll find a whole vine," said Suwannee Riverkeeper John Quarterman. "And pretty soon you'll find a carpet of vines."
The fern spreads easily and rapidly, out-competing nearly everything that attempts to grow near it.
"The climbing fern spreads by spores in the air, and it also spreads underground in the roots under there. So it spreads very rapidly, horizontally, vertically, covers everything and it's extremely hard to get rid of," Quarterman said.
Invasive plants like these mean less room for native plants, and less food for animals up and down the food chain.
"Nothing eats this. The insects don't eat it, which means birds don't have insects to eat," Quarterman said.
The climbing fern and privet create dense foliage, eliminating any space for hiking or activities. Experts said it takes a toll on recreation and the economy.
"Our southern forests, particularly pine forests, are a huge resource. They're a trademark. We need them for recreation, we need them for the economy, forestry, it's the biggest industry in Georgia," Quartman added.
Experts said in order to prevent the further spread of invasive plants, be sure to wash all clothes, shoes, and especially lawn mowers before heading out in to new areas.
The Center for Invasive Species, a resource through the University of Georgia, provides more information about prevention, as well as tracks the spread of invasives.