TOPEKA (KSNT) – It smells sweet and is easy on the eyes, but this invasive plant is slowly taking over outdoor areas across the Sunflower State.

KSNT 27 News spoke with state and local experts and efforts to contain the spread of invasive honeysuckle plants. The plant can be found in bush and vine varieties, but with the bushes being more aggressive, it’s creating angst for members of the Kansas Forest Service (KFS).

Forest Health Coordinator Ryan Rostok with the KFS spoke with 27 News about efforts underway to contain and control the spread of honeysuckle in Kansas. At this time of year, bush honeysuckle is easily distinguished from other plants in local green spaces and forests. Bearing white flowers with a sweet smell in the spring and red berries in the fall, bush honeysuckle is not difficult to spot.

“This time of the year, trees are going into dormancy,” Rostok said. “You’ll see a lot of green still in the understory from honeysuckle as it stays greener a lot later into the season than our native trees.”

Rostok said the threat posed by honeysuckle shouldn’t be underestimated due to its natural qualities.

“It’s probably among one of the bigger threats to our native ecosystem here in Kansas, especially in the eastern third of the state,” Rostok said. “It’s very persistent and hardy.”

Photo courtesy / Matthew Self

Once honeysuckle is established in a forest, it is difficult to remove it. The bush honeysuckle can take hold of the understory area, pushing out native plants and soaking up sunlight that native plants rely on to survive. Plant diversity plummets, replaced by the invasive honeysuckle.

“It’s the first to get its leaves in the spring and the last to lose them in the fall,” Rostok said. “The issue there is that it tends to become a monocrop in the understory. It outcompetes other native vegetation that provide more diversity in the ecosystem and for pollinators.”

Park District Manager Tom Hammer with Shawnee County Parks and Recreation (SCP+R) said efforts to control honeysuckle in the local area have been ongoing since before he joined the department in 1999. Areas like Skyline Park, Dornwood Park and along the Shunga Trail have felt the impact of the invasive species which soak up around $5,000 annually from SCP+R to control it.

Hammer said efforts to control honeysuckle include the use of herbicides, mowing and fire. Each method, or combinations, are used depending on the area in question.

“It’s kind of like controlling every other type of weed or plant,” Hammer said. “You have to do a little bit of everything.”

Rostok said his role with the KFS has been to bring awareness to the issue and help people come up with strategies to fight back against the invasive plants. Rostok said there are several different methods private landowners can use to remove honeysuckle but warned that once the place has become established somewhere, it is difficult to control.

“Awareness is key,” Rostok said. “As people are driving down the highway, especially mid to late November, you’re able to see a whole layer in these deciduous forests, you’ll be able to see the sheer scale of this thing.”

Another problem that comes with this plant is that it stays green for more time in the year. Rostok said honeysuckle is usually the first to get its leaves in the spring and the last to lose its leaves in the fall, giving it a competitive advantage over native plant species.

However, this advantage is being turned against honeysuckle. Hammer said the plant is much easier to find in the fall as it is the only one that still has leaves, allowing conservationists to single it out with herbicides.

For local landowners, Hammer said it is important to mow your yard often to prevent bush honeysuckle from becoming established. The plant grows quickly and can overrun a property in a short time. If you want to learn more about how to prevent the spread of bush honeysuckle on your property, click here.

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