Invasive Honeysuckle returns to Ohio, and why ODOT goes to great lengths to remove it

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As spring gets underway, a plant haunting the dreams of many conservationists has made its return.

Honeysuckle is back.

The invasive, sunlight-hogging bush has begun taking over fields, roadsides, and woodlands statewide. But this year, the Ohio Department of Transportation is not standing for any plants encroaching on the state’s highways.

Since the beginning of March, ODOT-hired contractors have been out clearing trees, honeysuckle, and any other plants that might fall onto or impact the state’s highways, ODOT spokesperson Hannah Salem said.

“The reason that we’re taking it down other than it being invasive is that it can improve sight distance and really boost that safety for motorists, especially around ramps or curves where the vegetation can sometimes block that sight distance,” Salem said.

The clearing project will run until June. ODOT crews will not be planting anything new in the areas they clear, Salem said.

Where is honeysuckle native, and how did it come to Ohio?

Honeysuckle wasn’t always in the Americas, clogging up backyard landscapes or the Buckeye State’s highways; the plant likely ended up in the U.S. for noble reasons.

The National Park Service said Dr. James Morrow first brought honeysuckle to the U.S. in 1852 after a naval expedition in Japan (hence the name Morrow’s Honeysuckle). Its importation rested on the thought that it could help prevent erosion and serve as windbreaks, which also explains why it’s so invasive.

Why is honeysuckle considered an invasive plant?

Honeysuckle doesn’t have razor-sharp thorns, nor does it attract dangerous pests; instead, its potential for harm comes from how good the plant is at surviving and multiplying.

It thrives in almost any soil with full sunlight but also tolerates moderate sunlight. That means it can quickly crowd out native species and cut off their access to sunlight, according to an OSU factsheet.

Allowing honeysuckle to thrive blocks out sunlight, which results in a lack of plant diversity, especially herbaceous species, low-growing shrubs, and tree seedlings. However, the National Park Service says that some studies revealed that honeysuckle might release a toxin from its roots that harms surrounding plants, preventing growth.

Not only that, but the plant’s berries are rich in carbohydrates and not much else, meaning that in areas where honeysuckle has taken over, migrating birds don’t have access to the high-fat, nutritious berries they need, according to the fact sheet. Birds are also responsible for spreading their seeds.

Luckily, the plant normally has shallow roots, which means it can be easily removed by pulling or digging it out from the ground, according to ODNR.