I wish this plant looked a little less attractive.
It seems to have a lot going for it.
Bush honeysuckle is a nice looking plant: its glossy leaves are some of the first to emerge in the Spring, and hang on well into the Fall. Attractive, scented flowers blossom in June, followed by edible berries that remain on the bushes through the Winter. It can tolerate some shade, and its root system can help to stop erosion. No wonder they were deliberately and thoughtfully introduced to this country!
Sounds good, right?
In fact, of the four types of bush honeysuckle that grow on Beaver Island, two are native. On the surface, they are almost indistinguishable from the two types that we label “invasive.”
So, what’s the difference?
Not all non-native species are “invasive.” My hyacinths are not taking over the yard, no matter how much I encourage it. Many plants – though not part of our native vegetation – are welcome additions to our yards and gardens.
That is not the case when it is an invasive plant.
I just did an internet search of “attributes of invasive plants”, thinking I’d find a concise, understandable list that I could share. I was humbled and horrified by explanations that were so far over my ability to make sense of them, I couldn’t begin to interpret them. I tried “characteristics of invasive plants” with similar results. If you’d like that information, it’s out there. Meanwhile, let me explain it as I understand it.
Invasive species have an advantage.
Maybe this advantage comes to them because our climate is even more favorable to their growth than their home climate was. Maybe our soil lacks the microbes that would slow their growth or reproduction. Perhaps the animals that might feed on the plant are not available here. Plants that would compete with them for nutrients, light and space do not grow here. This allows them to be a “bully” in our eco-system, taking over land and space so aggressively that our native species are crowded out.
According to the brochure of Top Ten Invasives (which is the source for my list), published by the Beaver Island Association (<www.beaverislandassociation.org>), invasive plants
- decrease your ability to enjoy hunting, fishing, mushroom collecting, bird watching and other recreational pursuits
- if left unchecked, will limit many uses of our islands now and for future generations
- can harm the natural heritage of our wetlands, fields, forests, lakes and rivers
In the case of invasive Bush Honeysuckle, the plants have a “rampant and aggressive” growth pattern that forms dense thickets. They block the sunlight, preventing other plants from growing there. It is believed they also may release a chemical into the soil that is toxic to other plants. Though it was once believed that it would provide a habitat and food source for wildlife, the opposite is true. Wildlife was left more exposed to predators, and the berries produced have no nutritional value to the birds that eat them.
Though very similar to our native honeysuckle, the invasive plants can be distinguished by their flowers. Native honeysuckle have yellow blooms. The invasive strains (Tatarian, from Russia, and Morrow’s, from Japan) have flowers of pink or white. The older stems of the invasive honeysuckle are hollow; all stems are solid in the native plants. They are generally found in sunny areas, and form dense stands about 6′ tall.
Cutting alone will not destroy the plant, as it can regenerate quickly from the roots. Pulling is effective in small stands or with young plants. Digging out older plants, being sure to get the entire root system, is one way to control them. A glysophate herbicidal solution (Round Up)applied to the plants or cut stems can work to kill the plant. As always when using herbicide, care should be taken to protect surrounding plants, water and wildlife.
When purchasing decorative plants, make sure they are not species that can threaten the natural beauty of our island.
As we’re getting out and about this year, let’s all be aware and keep watch for the invasive plants that threaten our landscape.