From rural hedgerows to city parks, our landscape is being invaded and overrun by exploding populations of certain woody plants which spread so aggressively that they are simply taking over our woodlands. These plants have no natural enemies, and reproduce so rapidly that they can smother existing native plants within just a few years of getting established. Left alone, they form dense undergrowth too thick to walk through. The worst offenders in Ohio are Japanese Honeysuckle, Autumn Olive, Callery Pear and Euonymus (burning bush).
At this time of year Japanese honeysuckle really stand out, because most other woodland plants have lost their leaves. Amur honeysuckle bushes practically glow with light green foliage and shiny red berries. Autumn olive bushes are easy to identify because of their “dusty” blue-gray leaves. Callery pear are cousins to the popular Bradford and Cleveland Select flowering pear trees, and have similar bloom and fall color, but are full of wicked thorns. Euonymus has distinctive bright red fall foliage and tiny bright orange berries.
An ironic aspect to the current woody plant invasion is that our government actually promoted some of the worst invasive plants, before their negative impact was understood. The first Autumn olive plants came from Asia in 1830, but the real population explosion happened between 1940 and 1970. Soil conservation agencies released a variety called ‘Cardinal’ that was known for its prolific red berries. They sold and promoted Autumn olive for windbreak, erosion control and as a natural barrier on highway median strips.
Multiflora Rose was brought here as rootstock for cultivated roses. In the 1930’s, the United States Soil Conservation Service strongly recommended planting this species to prevent erosion. The nursery industry advertised it as cattle fencing, and as a natural snow fence and crash barrier along highways. Later, in the 1960’s, wildlife biologists were recommending it as a good source of food and shelter for wildlife.
If you own wooded acreage, one or more of these invaders is probably well advanced there. You need to take action and destroy them before your entire landscape turns into a jungle. In doing so you’ll contribute to one of the most important environmental battles of our time. Just ask any urban forester, forest ranger, park manager or conservationist. They’re losing sleep over this problem right now. Each of us needs to take action to stop this invasion, right in our own backyards. For tips on how to control these greedy invaders, see the “Let’s Grow” column archive at https://goodseedfarm.com/ArticleHow-to-Stop-the-Honeysuckle-Invasion.htm
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in outdoor living spaces. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.