COLUMBIA — Scanning a dense thicket of bush honeysuckle, Bonnie Chasteen strolled along her driveway, stopped and pointed to tiny berries on the vine.
Although the berries are attractive now, she knows that in the weeks ahead, she will have a yard full of splattered seeds.
“In a month or so, these green berries will turn bright red," said Chasteen, who rents a house in the East Campus neighborhood and works for the Missouri Department of Conservation.
"They are very copious, and the birds eat them, then they drop the seeds everywhere,” she said. "Bush honeysuckle is an alien invader."
Chasteen has written a brochure for the department that describes the menace the bush has become in Columbia and the rest of the country.
Unlike Missouri's native vine honeysuckle, the bush honeysuckle spreads quickly, crowds out native forest plants and must be controlled with a combination of chemicals and vigorous pruning, she explains in "Curse of the Bush Honeysuckles."
Recently, the problem became so acute in East Campus that the neighborhood association decided to buy a "popper," a tool that goes beneath the roots of bush honeysuckle and heaves it out of the ground.
Chasteen’s neighbor and association secretary Rachel Brekhus said she was surprised by the number of people who were aware of the problem and wanted to do something about it.
“There’s a massive feeling among the neighbors,” she said. “There was no pro-bush honeysuckle faction at the meeting."
Using the popper to combat bush honeysuckle, however, is not a one-time solution. Brekhus said bush honeysuckle is hard to eradicate because it grows rapidly and tends to spread widely. It also has underground roots that are nearly impossible to kill.
Brekhus said she has spent a day chopping off the top of her honeysuckle just to watch it sprout up again within weeks.
“What’s really annoying is if you don’t get rid of those big, fat, really-hard-to-deal with root balls underneath, you will end up getting more of it,” she said.
“The longer the root balls stick around, the harder it is to get rid of.”
Tim Banek, invasive species coordinator for the Conservation Department, said honeysuckle is originally from Asia and has become a threat across the United States.
Two kinds of exotic, invasive bush honeysuckle exist in Missouri, including Amur (Lonicera maackii) and Bella (Lonicera X bella), he said. There is no natural control for it, so it must be tackled with herbicide spray and mechanical equipment.
When plants are small, they can be dug up rather easily. When they become invasive, homeowners should consider applying a foliar spray to the leaves late in the fall and early in the spring.
The cut-stump treatment can also be effective, Banek said. This involves cutting the plant close to the ground and spraying the stump with herbicide.
Left alone, bush honeysuckle will shade and compete with native plants, he said. Honeysuckle also releases allelopathic, a chemical that can inhibit growth in other plant species.
“That’s what invasive plants do," Banek said.
According to the NatureServe website, invasive species introduced from elsewhere in the world are now regarded as the second biggest threat after habitat destruction.
Chasteen said bush honeysuckle also affects wildlife behavior.
“A lot of species are dependent on the nuts and berries that native plants such as dogwood and spice bush provide,” she said.
Birds have evolved to depend on certain native berries, for example. When bush honeysuckle overwhelms the plants with these berries, certain birds are unable to find the food they depend on and will eventually disappear from the area, Chasteen said.
Bush honeysuckle canopies also create unwelcome shelter for predators such as raccoons.
Diversity is a keystone of sustainability, she said. The more diverse the landscape, the more likely it is for wildlife to survive and thrive.
"Getting rid of bush honeysuckle is a real direct way for people to preserve nature," she said.