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Bush Honeysuckle’s Hold on Missouri Backyards

Bush Honeysuckle with green leaves.
Katie Quinn

Bush honeysuckle is everywhere. In the park, on the side of the road, and even in your own backyard. It is considered an invasive species- or as John George, Regional Resource Management Supervisor from the Missouri Department of Conservation calls it: The bad list.

Katie Quinn: When we're talking about invasive species, can you kind of explain how do you get categorized as an invasive species?

John George: We know that there's over 2000 native plant species. But we also know that at least 1000 species over time have been moved from one part of the world to another. Most of them are relatively innocuous, they don't cause problems. A lot of them are favored in landscaping. But a small percentage of them, after they adjust to the local climate, they really kind of explode across the landscape. They have no natural control mechanism. So they start to outcompete natives, and your native diversity goes way down. Your native animals, birds, insects, and even mammals in some cases can't utilize them. They just kind of grow unchecked. That's how you end up on the bad list.

Katie Quinn: I like that on the bad list. Could you please tell me some common invasive species or plants that Missourians would see in their backyard?

Bush honeysuckle is one that over the last century has kind of come to almost eat urban areas.
John George

John George: Bush honeysuckle is one that over the last century has kind of come to almost eat urban areas. It has filled so much of the growing space and crowded out so many native things. That in many cases it's the only thing growing. It's the first thing that we see green up, that's woody in the spring, and it's the last thing we see drop its leaves in the Fall. If you get an eye for it, you'll realize that it is probably far and away the largest biomass in the urban area.

Katie Quinn: Just to be clear, do you have to remove the whole bush for it to go away?

John George: It is a lot of labor, you're usually cutting the stem off close to the ground level, and you're treating it with a specific herbicide to kill the roots that are in the ground. And a lot of people that don't want to use herbicides will use various pulling devices, levers, because it's fairly shallow rooted. So you can kind of rip it out of the ground when the grounds a little bit moist. We are blessed that our city maintains a couple of mulch sites where you can take loads of this and drop it off for free at the mulch site and then the city will grind it up. But it does require quite a bit of physical stamina. It's not easy for just everybody to do.

John George: You can cut it off and treat the stump that remains attached to the ground, and then it can stay there because you killed it. But then you really need to get all of that material that you cut off out of the way. If you're wanting to create sunlight and space for native plants, you really kind of need to get the whole thing out of the way. You can kill it in place with other different herbicides. But if you still have it there, that woody structure, the birds still perch on it. The birds do eat the seeds of it. They will still deposit the seeds in their feces below that wooden structure that you left standing there. So just more will grow up.

Katie Quinn: Now for my favorite question, what is your favorite Missouri native plants that you would grow after you remove that Bush honeysuckle?

John George: I'm a little bit partial to our prairies. I like prairie willow. I like butterfly milkweed and I like pale purple coneflower. I like watching the insects and the birds use those species in my garden. So I would pick some natives and I just named three. I like a really long list of natives but those are ones I like. Consider if you can dedicate some space to natives, even if it's just a few square feet and a couple of species. The native wildlife insects and birds will find it and use it.

Katie Quinn works for Missouri Business Alert. She studied radio journalism and political science at the University of Missouri- Columbia, and previously worked at KBIA.