Every day I arrive to work in Le Center, I’m greeted by a row of honeysuckles.
These plants have thrived in a usually inhospitable area; residual heat from the parking lot, and powerful winds from the west. Their flowers always attract nearby bugs, and even induced a panic in the courthouse when more than a few wasps happened to stop by one summer morning.
When I would visit Iowa to see my parents, however, an entirely different outlook about honeysuckles emerged. With an axe in one hand and a spray bottle of potent herbicide on the other, I was fighting a scourge rather than a landscaped plant.
So, to grab the axe or the camera? To start, these invasive honeysuckles are almost exclusively in the Lonicera genus. These include: Amur, Tatarian, Bell’s, and Morrow’s honeysuckle. There are also native Lonicera species but are much more like vines than a shrub.
The invasive honeysuckles were initially brought by well-intentioned landscapers and gardeners. Given how comfortable these plants were to a variety of environments, they were chosen for soil stabilization and wildlife interest. The shrubs were certainly successful in the latter, as birds gulped down the berries, spreading them across the United States. Once planted, honeysuckles would start fast, leafing out real early in the spring and holding onto said leaves into the late fall. This greater time gathering sunlight helps outcompete other native plants such as gooseberries or currants we otherwise would munch on.
A quick way to ID an invasive honeysuckle is to split an older, bigger branch of the plant and look for a partially hollow stem with a brownish pith. To control, an herbicide treatment containing the chemical triclopyr is best. Please read the label for any chemical applications, some products which contain triclopyr are not suitable for treating honeysuckles. That label will also inform you about the preferred methods of application. I have personally had some luck with cut-stem treatment. Essentially, you prune the plant down to a few inches off the ground then spray a mixed solution of your chosen herbicide.
All this toil makes it even more annoying that the exact same soil and wildlife benefits could already be had by a native relative I see in Le Center, the northern bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera). This plant’s name is a bit confusing, as some people still call the invasive species “bush honeysuckle” as well. Northern bush honeysuckle flowers certainly do look like their weedy lookalikes, but are yellow for most of their life, as opposed to white or pinkish white of the Lonicera plants.
Northern bush honeysuckle also likes to grow low to the ground and does not form a thick brush. Similar to the exotic Lonicera species, northern bush honeysuckle can thrive in full shade to partial sun. It likes its soil a bit more drained but can still hug steeper hill sides with few problems. They also attract native pollinators, birds, and maybe the odd Extension agent walking to work.