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Honeysuckles: Worst invasive plant in Henry County woods

Bush honeysucklesteals sunlight from the forest floor, tricks birds into eating nutrient-poor berries and seeps chemicals into the soil that stop other plants from growing.

By Helen Steussy - For The Courier-Times

Are your woods healthy?

It’s easy to tell this time of year. Just step back and peer into your understory. If the bottom 6-10 feet of your woodland is filled with a bright Grinchy green, then your woods are infested with the nasty, invasive bush honeysuckle.

Where a healthy Indiana woods in November is rich with the yellows, oranges and reds of fall, unhealthy woods reek of green from foreign places that disrupts the beautiful ecosystem of a Hoosier forest.

But wait, you might say. I think the green is pretty and they have those red berries for the birds.

Don’t let this pretty face fool you. The green branches steal all the sunlight from the forest floor and stay green too late in the fall and too early in the spring. They smother the wonderful Indiana forest wildflowers like spring beauties, bluebells and the adorable Dutchman’s breeches. And those ephemeral lovelies provide sustenance for our spring pollinators – bumblebees and butterflies alike.

And those berries. Yes, the birds eat them, but like Halloween candy, they aren’t healthy. The honeysuckle berries don’t have the nutrients the birds need to carry them on migration or to keep their bodies warm on an autumn eve. They fill up on the honeysuckles and don’t eat the rich dogwood and spicebush berries that nourish their feathered bodies.

Do birds nest in honeysuckles? Well, yes, but it’s not a good idea.

Scientists have shown that the birds that nest in honeysuckles lose more eggs and hatchlings to predators.

And if that isn’t enough, honeysuckles seep an allelopathic chemical into the soil that dissuades any other plants from growing. So they even choke out small trees from getting started. You get one honeysuckle into your woods and soon you have a monoculture of sickly green choking the understory of your woodland.

Is there a solution? Yes, indeed. You can get out into your woods these fall afternoons and cut down the honeysuckles and paint a little Round-up on the stump. You can talk to the folks at the Natural Resources Conservation Service on County Road 200 North about grants to help you conquer your honeysuckle problem.

Come springtime, when your woods are singing with warblers and sparkling with spring beauties, you will be glad you did.