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Sweet-Smelling Honeysuckle Is A Not-So-Sweet Invader

Magnificent Missouri

You may have seen the billboards, calling honeysuckle an "enemy of the state."


It turns out that pretty bush with its fragrant, white and yellow flowers isn't so sweet after all.

Erin Shank is an urban wildlife biologist with the Missouri Department of Conservation. But she spends a lot of her time these days trying to get rid of invasive honeysuckle.

"We certainly have quite a bit of it, no doubt about that," Shank said. "And it’s a bugger of a plant to control and manage."

Bush honeysuckle was brought to the U.S. from Europe and Asia as an ornamental hedge. But because it didn't evolve here, it doesn't have any diseases or pests to keep it in check.

Honeysuckle grows in dense woody stands, reaching up to ten feet in height. It has a longer growing season than most native forest plants.

"It's the first thing to green up in the spring and it's the last thing to lose its leaves in the fall," Shank said. "So it really dominates the landscape."

Shank said honeysuckle is taking over in Missouri's forests, driving out native flowering plants and shrubs.

The Missouri Department of Conservation says honeysuckle can affect lake and stream banks, marsh, fens, sedge meadow, wet and dry prairies, savannas, floodplain and upland forests and woodlands.
Credit Missouri Department of Conservation
It may look pretty, but bush honeysuckle is growing out of control in Missouri's forests, wiping out native species.

And once it takes hold, it's very hard to get rid of, she said.

"What we're talking about is using crews with chain saws, usually, or some sort of heavy equipment, to actually cut and remove that material," Shank said. "And then treat those stumps with herbicide."

Shank said after they clear out the honeysuckle, they often have to go in and replant native species, to give them a head start.

Even then, the battle isn't over, Shank said. You have to go back every year and re-spray any new honeysuckle growth, "or else you’re going to be back where you started, in five to ten years."

It can seem like a losing battle. "Sometimes it feels like we’re trying to hold back the ocean here on invasive species," Shank said.

The best solution, she said, is for people not to plant honeysuckle or any exotic species in the first place.

You can read more about honeysuckle ― and its link to human, tick-borne diseases ― here.

Follow Véronique LaCapra on Twitter: @KWMUScience

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