Columbus may not be the most cosmopolitan city in the Midwest. Our international airport is lucky if it receives a Canadian flight. But Columbus isn't as isolated as it may seem, at least not botanically. Go to any woods and you're likely to find foreign visitors, the most prominent of which is the Asian honeysuckle bush. With a knack for thick growth, honeysuckle easily crowds out native plants, claiming open buckeye forestlands and transforming them into dense thickets.
The bush has been ubiquitous in our forests for so long that the un-initiated could hardly be blamed for assuming it to be a native. Only when visiting unaffected forests, with the possibility of looking around and observing a forest floor covered with native plants, do we realize how dramatically local forests have changed.
Why does honeysuckle do so well in Ohio? It has a few key advantages local plants can't compete with. In the spring, the bush, which can grow from six to 15 feet tall, spreads its leaves before other plants and thus blocks much-needed sunlight from native plants and flowers growing on the forest floor. As if blocking out sunlight wasn't enough, honeysuckle roots also release a chemical, deterring the growth of other plants. Finally, the plant is unusually prolific in the production of seeds. The juicy red berries, which hold those seeds, are attractive to birds and other animals, ensuring that they are transported to new areas. And once established, honeysuckle does not easily surrender.
As anyone who has tried can attest, removing honeysuckle is no easy task. Ripping the bush out works only if all of its roots are removed, which is quite difficult to do. If any roots remain they quickly regenerate and soon the plant is back to its original vigorous state.
One alternative to pulling the bushes out is applying systemic herbicides. However, this is no miracle solution and, of course, can't keep honeysuckle from returning. A natural, biological solution to the problem doesn't exist. The closest thing to that is to quickly reclaim areas freed from honeysuckle with native plants and trees.
In Columbus there are several organizations that are actively participating in the eradication of honeysuckle from local forests. One of these groups, Green Columbus
, recently sent 50 volunteers to work with city staff of a Columbus suburb to remove honeysuckle from a small neighborhood park. The volunteers planted tulip poplars, sycamores, red maples, serviceberry and other trees in areas previously cleared of honeysuckle, with hopes that they can re-establish before honeysuckle returns.
Work of this kind at Wyman woods provides a great example to the long-term difficulties involved in eradicating honeysuckle. The park is no Yellowstone, its woods can be crossed on foot in the span of five or ten minutes. Yet the project to eradicate honeysuckle there, which is now ending, is in its third year.
Rebuilding healthy forests isn't going to happen without first getting honeysuckle under control and that means a real commitment. But as Central Ohioans begin to explore honeysuckle-free forests, like Wyman woods, and see first-hand the benefits of its eradication, there is hope that the commitment to restoring local forests to their natural state will grow.