Honeysuckle - What is it, and why is it so bad . . . what can we do about it.
There are two general types of non native invasive honeysuckle plants, vine (Japanese) and bush (Amur is the most common). Both are nuisance invasive plants, but in southwest Ohio, Amur Honeysuckle has become a catastrophic environmental disaster.
What's the problem?
1. Bush honeysuckle replaces all other plants. In many places, nothing else grows, and the ground beneath it is bare. Pollinators and other wildlife depend on dozens, and often hundreds of different species of plants that each bloom at different times of the year, from March through October. Honeysuckle replaces all of these native plants, only blooms for a couple of weeks, and has a deep trumpet shaped flower that most pollinators cannot even access.
2. Lost Woodlands - Once honeysuckle begins to take over a woodland, no new seedlings are sprouting. As time passes, trees age and die, but there are no new tree saplings waiting to take their place. What's worse, the honeysuckle competes heavily with the trees for water and nutrients, so that even the older trees that are growing are weakened and left far more vulnerable to attacks by insects and disease. Again, when they die, there are no new trees to take their place.
3. Deer and Coyotes - The catastrophic amount of honeysuckle growing throughout southwest Ohio provides excessive cover for deer and coyotes to hide in. This has led to a major increase in these animals that would normally only be found in less densely populated areas. Remove the honeysuckle, and the deer and coyote populations will drop to normal levels.
4. Lyme Disease - The increase in honeysuckle has been directly associated with an increase in Lyme Disease due to the increase in deer populations in urban and suburban areas.
5. Erosion - Because the ground beneath bush honeysuckle is almost always bare, the exposed soil is highly vulnerable to erosion. Plus, honeysuckle is very shallow rooted, and replaces all of the native species of plants that would do a far better job of protecting creek banks.
6. Stream Health - Recent research has shown that the presence of honeysuckle on the banks of creeks, stream, and rivers significantly decreases the bio-diversity in the streams themselves. (Read more here . . .) Now go take a look at how much honeysuckle is growing along both side of our Mill Creek. This is just one small example.
Read more below image . . .
Wait, it gets worse. Honeysuckle is not the only invasive plant that is destroying our natural areas. Callery Pear, Lesser Celandine, Winter Creeper, and Garlic Mustard are just a few of the other highly invasive plants that are destroying our natural areas in southwest Ohio. Honeysuckle just happens to be the worst . . . by far.
Is there a solution? The battle will be tough, but we have some awesome new ideas for attacking this serious threat head on, and seeing where that gets us. First let’s take a close look at the current challenges we face in making an attempt to battle this monster.
•Lack of funding – grants and tax dollars are the only current funding streams, and there is tremendous competition for both. Solution – Open Pollinator Plus Museums in specific suitable locations based on tourist traffic, nearby hotel rooms available, population density, etc. Add value to the harvesting process by utilizing the materials being removed.
•Lack of volunteer labor – if there are too few funds to hire out the workers needed the only option is to recruit volunteers. Combating invasive bush honeysuckle is more labor intensive than what most potential volunteers want to get involved with. Solution – Provide more efficient tools, less labor intensive options, more environmentally friendly options, and give hope that the battle is not lost.
•Lack of efficient equipment – Currently there are a lot of battles taking place, but no all-out war. How many cities and towns across the US own their own Tanks, fighter jets, bombers, or aircraft carriers? This is a huge crisis, and we need to attack it on a united front that is great enough to purchase the large equipment that will be necessary to have a chance at bringing this issue under control. Heavy duty equipment could be purchased collectively and shared. The equipment could be paid for by actually selling compost material created by harvesting the bushes. It is crucial that this war is fought by all of us combining forces, because the small groups, municipalities, and park districts are not able to or motivated to purchase the equipment needed to get the job done. If the right equipment does not exist yet, it needs to be designed and built.
•Lack of efficient tools – There have been a number of tools designed to effectively pull shrubs from the ground with little effort. Solution - There needs to be better options/tools designed for pulling the small seedlings without having to bend over. Some people can bend for a period while they work, others quite a bit, but creating more bend free removal options will increase the effectiveness of volunteers, as well as increasing the number of volunteers willing to get involved.
•Lack of environmentally friendly killing methods – The use of Glyphosate is a very controversial subject, and many potential volunteers are strongly opposed to its use under any circumstances. I believe that there is significant potential in utilizing an insulated chamber to burn stumps quickly, effectively, and without risk of fire. Design options need to be tested, as well as methods of use such as most effective time of year to burn. In some areas goats could be used to control re-emerging shoots, which will eventually kill the plants. Even an annual mowing can be used to keep it under control provided it is done at the proper time of year, and that it is done prior to the new growth becoming too woody.
•Lack of information – There needs to be more research done, or better dispersal of information gathered from research that has already been done. I have unanswered questions about the growth habits, regenerative habits, and the chemical produced by the plants that inhibit germination or growth of other plants.
•Lack of promotion – Environmentalists, conservationists, and people with a deep appreciation of the outdoors are well aware of the problem, but we need to take this crisis to mainstream, and make everyone aware of how serious this situation has become, and how serious the ramifications are. Solution – There needs to be a documentary made, and short video clips produced. News sources need to be made aware of how serious this problem is so that they are motivated to help get the word out to everyone. Yes, we need a highly informative video documentary made to help get the word out to everyone as needs to happen. We must educate the public, and a video that clearly shows how widespread Amur Honeysuckle is, and tells why it must be removed will help do that.
•Lack of hope – To many of those that are currently involved in dealing with this issue, there may appear to be no hope in ever eliminating or controlling this plant. Some people may volunteer once, or a few times, but when they see the plant rapidly coming back with a vengeance, they may very well think “why bother, we’re losing, it can’t be stopped”. We have to give folks hope! Solution – Implement these ideas, and there will be hope.
How bad has Amur Honeysuckle become in our area? Just look around you. Look along I-71, I-75, I-275, Ronald Reagan Hwy, along the Mill Creek, along any other roads where all of the grass is not mowed, as well as in any and all of the parks throughout southwest Ohio.
Here are a few videos shot last fall that give a mere glimpse of how bad it has become:
I-71 & I-75 Seven Gables Carter Park Little Miami Bike Trail
Also, check out these links about Amur Honeysuckle:
Richardson Forest Preserve - This is just one of many horrific examples of how bad Amur Honeysuckle is in the Hamilton County Park District. What makes this such a shocking example is that this nature preserve is supposed to be one of the four "special" properties that is not accessible to the public due to its supposed high conservation status. Read what they say about it on their web site . . . " This forest preserve has been protected and monitored by the park district since 1965. Its 393 acres of freshwater marsh serves as a habitat for many rare and unusual plant species, including skunk cabbage, marsh marigold and five-angled dodder. "
In fact, this property is covered with Amur Honeysuckle, and is one of the worst in the entire district . . . and that is saying a lot!