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The Not-So-Sweet Story of Honeysuckle in St. Louis

Honeysuckle evokes for many fond summer memories of plucking small, white flowers off the vine and guzzling their sweet nectar. However, for others, honeysuckle represents a terror to our native ecosystems.

In this enlightening article, Hanna Peterman, senior majoring in Environmental Biology and Spanish and student coordinator of the Tyson Conservation Corps, explains how honeysuckle is a threat to our region’s ecosystems, and recent initiatives taken to tackle this issue.

Honeysuckle, an Invasive Shrub

Bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) is an invasive shrub from eastern Asia that poses a major threat to native flora and fauna across Missouri and much of the northern and eastern United States. What sets bush honeysuckle apart from its native and introduced viny relatives is its aggressive, rapid growth and tolerance to a wide range of environmental conditions. These qualities make it a highly effective invader.

Initially introduced for use in landscaping and erosion control in the early 20th century, bush honeysuckle escaped cultivation and has rapidly spread over the last few decades. The shrub grows in dense thickets, crowding out native plants and altering soil chemistry and erosion. It produces large numbers of seeds, which are eaten by birds and dispersed far and wide. Bush honeysuckle also leafs out earlier in the spring and drops its leaves in the fall, later than most native plants, giving it a competitive edge.

While bush honeysuckle is largely found in disturbed areas like roadsides or clearings, it can also take root in high-value habitat where it may lead to ecosystem decline and a loss of native biodiversity. Tyson Research Center, WashU’s ecological field station located west of campus in Eureka, MO, hosts a growing population of invasive bush honeysuckle. Without controlling the invasion, the site could lose its variety of native habitats. Research on the natural ecology of the region would become impossible and a large area of intact habitat would be lost.

Tyson Conservation Corps Gets to Work

Luckily, efforts to quell the spread of bush honeysuckle and restore the damage it has done are underway. Organizations across the region, from Missouri Department of Conservation, to the Forest Park Forever, to Shaw Nature Reserve, organize volunteer workdays to clear honeysuckle from invaded land.

In April, these efforts found their way to Tyson Research Center with the help of Tyson Conservation Corps. A crew of student volunteers, led by Shaw Nature Reserve’s ecological restoration specialist, got to work clearing invasive bush honeysuckle from the the banks of a creek on the site.

The workday marked the beginning of what will be a long-term effort to control and manage bush honeysuckle at Tyson Research Center, with the hope of restoring and conserving the site’s natural ecosystems.

How Can I Help?

There are many ways to get involved in bush honeysuckle removal and control. Sign up for Tyson Conservation Corps and keep your eye out for other bush honeysuckle removal workdays in the community.

You can also educate your friends and neighbors about the negative ecological impact of bush honeysuckle and discourage them from planting it in their backyards. Check out the Missouri Department of Conservation’s guide to identification and control of the species here.