Exotic bush honeysuckles threaten environment, wildlife, and economy
Invasive plants are spreading in Southeastern Ohio landscapes, lakes, and rivers. Aggressive non-native invasive plants alter the natural environmental, destroy wildlife habitat, and threaten our economy by interfering with timber and agricultural production and recreational opportunities.
An invasive plant that is spreading throughout Ohio is bush honeysuckle. There are four different species of exotic bush honeysuckle that are similar in appearance and equally invasive. With attractive flowers and high fruit production, exotic bush honeysuckles were introduced from Eastern Asia and promoted for use in shelterbelts, wildlife habitat improvement, and landscaping. However, planting exotic bush honeysuckle in your yard or woodlot can be detrimental to songbirds, the health of your woodland, and your wallet if timber production is a goal. Bush honeysuckle produces an abundance of berries and birds readily eat them when there are few native food sources available. However, honeysuckle berries are high in carbohydrates and do not provide the high fat content that native plant food sources do. High energy foods are important for birds preparing for long migratory flights of hundreds to thousands of miles. Highly invaded areas also provide poor nesting habitat since nests are built closer to the ground in these shrubs making eggs and nestlings more likely to be food for stray cats and other predators.
Bush honeysuckle aggressively invades fields, roadsides, right-of-ways, forest edges, and open woodlands through bird-dispersed seeds. Exotic bush honeysuckles leaf out earlier in the spring than most native plants and maintain green leaves into the fall after most plants are dormant. This long growing season allows them to shade out native wildflowers and shrubs. Imagine a spring and summer without a diverse mix of native wildflowers blooming along woodland edges and fields!
Exotic bush honeysuckles also hurt the economy of our region. Thickets of this shrub can slow the growth of canopy trees and prevent new seedlings from establishing. The timber industry and jobs associated with it are dependent on the health and productivity of our forests.
Fall is a good time to identify exotic bush honeysuckles since they hold onto their leaves much longer than native plants. These shrubs have tall 6-15 ft arching branches with hollow centers. The leaves are 1-3.5 inches long with smooth edges, short stalks, and arranged in pairs along the stem. Stems are grayish-brown and as they age begin to have broad ridges and grooves giving a striped appearance. Fragrant tube-like flowers form in pairs along stems during the spring and are white to pink in color and fade to a creamy yellow. Berries form in clusters of 2-15 from mid-summer to early fall. Berries are most often red, but occasionally are orange or yellow. Our native bush honeysuckles can be differentiated by their solid stems, finely toothed leaves, and long pointed vase-shaped capsule fruits.
Information for the control of exotic bush honeysuckles can be found at OSU-Extension – Controlling non-native invasive plants in Ohio forests: bush honeysuckle – 1.8 mb or by contacting Eric Boyda at 740-534-6578 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Photo credit: Eric Boyda.