Effectiveness of Treatments to Reduce Rhododendron maximum and Promote Tree Seedling Regeneration in the Southern Appalachians
Rosebay rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum L.) is an evergreen ericaceous shrub that plays a dynamic role in the southern Appalachian forests. Commonly located on mesic sites, this understory shrub forms dense thickets that greatly reduce the amount of light available to herbaceous and woody plants found on the forest floor. Past research has shown that silvicultural methods can be used to eradicate R. maximum, however it is unclear which of these methods is most efficient and what effects other than stem mortality may occur. In this study, treatments involving prescribed fire, mechanical cutting, and herbicide applications were applied to R. maximum dominated forests in southwestern Virginia to determine what effect seven different silvicultural treatments had on 1) controlling of R. maximum as a forest weed 2) fuel loading inside of a R. maximum thicket, and 3) canopy tree seedling regeneration. Mechanical cutting treatments were successful in reducing R. maximum basal area per acre; however stump sprouting and increased fuel loading occurred. Herbicide applications were successful in controlling only the smallest diameter class of R. maximum stems. Prescribed fire reduced litter layers and caused delayed mortality on R. maximum stems three years following treatment. Hemispherical photographs taken within each plot showed that silvicultural treatments that successfully increased the amount of light entering each plot were influential in seedling establishment three years following treatments. Results from this study can be used to further perfect silvicultural applications that alleviate R. maximum cover on the forest landscape.