Honeysuckle Harms Local Woodlands

David Hague cuts amur honeysuckle from a wooded area of the Hague Nature Preserve. After the honeysuckle is cut, herbicide is immediately applied to the remaining stump.
Photo by Rachel Scofield

March 7, 2023
By Editor Rachel Scofield

When settlers came to Ohio, they cleared trees and built homesteads. They also introduced non-native plants which competed with local plants and trees. The problem continues to this day as more non-native plants are imported. 

“What is benign in the garden this year may become an invasive plant in the future,” said David Hague, Founder of Coyote Run State Nature Preserve. “There are many native plants and trees offered that are already adapted to our part of the world. Use of native plants is one way to reduce the problem of invasive plants.”

The National Park Service maintains that in Ohio, the invasive plant which causes the most damage is honeysuckle.

A plant is considered invasive if it causes more harm than good to an ecosystem, has a high rate of growth and reproduction, is free from predators or disease and can be easily dispersed from place to place.

Per the Ohio State University Extension website, honeysuckle was first introduced into the United States in the mid-1800s from Europe and Asia for erosion control and its fragrant flowers.

“These non-native plants thrive in full sunlight, but can tolerate moderate shade, and are therefore aggressive invaders of a variety of sites including abandoned fields, roadsides, right-of-ways, woodland edges, and the interiors of open woodlands. Honeysuckle out competes and shades out desirable native woodland species, and can form pure, dense thickets totally void of other vegetation,” the Extension states.

The leaves of this amur (bush) honeysuckle emerge earlier in the spring than other plants.
Photo by Rachel Scofield

“While honeysuckle fruit is abundant and rich in carbohydrates, it lacks the high-fat and nutrient-rich content that most of our native plants provide migrating birds. Wherever invasive honeysuckle shrubs displace our native forest species, there is a huge potential impact on these migrating bird populations due to the reduction in availability of native food sources.”

Spring is still weeks away, yet the honeysuckle bushes already sport leaves.  By the time young native saplings begin to leaf, the honeysuckle bushes will have blocked the sun. 

There are several species of invasive honeysuckle but the one most prominent locally is amur honeysuckle or bush honeysuckle. When very small it may be removed by hand as long as all the roots are pulled up. Usually though loppers are used to cut the honeysuckle at near ground level and then an herbicide must be immediately applied to keep it from resprouting. Some honeysuckle will have grown so large that a chainsaw is needed.  

“Like many invasive plants, honeysuckle produces thousands of seeds each growing season,” Hague said. “These seeds contribute to a vast seed bank that can lay dormant for years. This requires yearly work in removing the new plants that germinate. It can be a bit discouraging to seemingly make headway in an area only to have just as many honeysuckle the following year. Persistence pays off however as the seed bank will gradually be exhausted.”

After the honeysuckle is cut, herbicide is carefully dripped onto the cut stems.
Photo by Rachel Scofield

At the Coyote Run, volunteer efforts have had a visible impact on the health of the woodlands.

“Because of the near elimination of honeysuckle and other invasive plants, the forest is much healthier,” Hague said. “With no competition from honeysuckle the native trees and herbaceous plants, including spring wildflowers, thrive.”

Animals have moved back too. Along Sycamore Creek, beavers have reduced willow trees to sharpened stumps. At a recent birding exhibition, organized by the Pickerington Public Library, participants spotted 30 species of birds including red-headed woodpeckers which the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) lists as a “species of concern”.

Coyote Run Founder David Hague follows the Iroquois Confederacy’s “Seventh Generation Principle” in which you consider how your actions today will impact the seven generations who follow. 

“Respect for the natural environment should be an integral part of our lives,” Hague said. “As a species we are responsible for the scourge of invasives so offering a little help to restore our forests and even our lawns goes a long way.”

Ramps, a type of wild leek common in Appalachia, grows in Coyote Run where invasive plants have been removed.
Photo by Rachel Scofield

In terms of protecting and maintaining forests and greenspace, “if you just say somebody else will take care of it, then it will never get done,” Hague said. “Individually we should accept responsibility to be good stewards of nature and likewise for our elected officials.”

Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks volunteers have been tackling invasives at six different parks. A recent blog post on the Metro Park’s website highlighted some of these remediation efforts. For more information on how to participate, please follow the link to the Metro Parks volunteering page

Fairfield County Park District recently launched its “VIPERS” program. VIPERS stands for “Volunteer Invasive Plant Eradication Squad”.  To learn more, you can contact Volunteer Coordinator Carol at cabbott@fairfieldcountyparks.org. To join the VIPERS team, complete the online application form.

Invasive plant remediation will also be part of the Pickerington Earth Day Clean Up on April 22.  There is a Sign-Up Genius for the event. If you wish to help with the invasive removal, you are encouraged to bring your own loppers and work gloves in case volunteers outnumber equipment.

A new conservation group, Greener Violet, recently formed to bring Pickerington area conservationists together.  They have a Facebook page and intend to expand to other social media platforms and a website soon.

While participating in the Pickerington Library’s 2023 Backyard Bird Count at Coyote Run, Matt Stone captured on video a coyote chasing a group of deer.