At the request of the East Ozarks Audubon Society (EOAS), the city of Farmington is working the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) and AmeriCorps to remove the invasive bush honeysuckle infestation out of the Dr. F.R. Crouch Nature Sanctuary in Engler Park.
According to EOAS Conservation Committee Member Sue Hagan, the honeysuckle was already rampant throughout Engler Park when it opened in the early 2000s. As the city of Farmington does not have the resources to combat the problem, EOAS members attempted several methods of eradication that either did not work or were incomplete.
AmeriCorps volunteers, under the supervision of MDC agents, began hacking down honeysuckle bushes early this month.
The bush honeysuckle is an invasive species brought to America from Asia originally as a decorative plant. According to the MDC, it is an understory shrub in woodlands. The honeysuckles invade quickly and outcompete native plants. Because they leaf out so early, they steal light from native plants that need a sunny forest floor in spring in order to flower, fruit, and gather energy for the next year. Birds and small animals eat the berries and deposit the seeds elsewhere, spreading this noxious weed.
Roger Frazier, priority habitat coordinator with the MDC, is one of the supervisors involved with the eradication program.
“It’s not native to our area and being introduced like it is, it’s taking advantage of the situation and its impacting all of our native species,” he said. “It’s relatively new to the Farmington area, so there’s a real chance in this area, if people got serious, they could do a good job of trying to get this in check and eradicate it.”
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Frazier pointed to a small clearing in the forest where the honeysuckle has developed a dense growth.
“You have this gap in the canopy, but we don’t have any oak resprouting here in the understory, because we are not getting enough sunlight in,” he said.
Indicating a large white oak on the edge of the clearing, Frazier noted that in 20-40 years, the tree will die and not be replaced with new sprouts if the honeysuckle is allowed to flourish.
“This bush honeysuckle is only going to get thicker and denser,” he said. “We are not going to get that oak regeneration back. The forest is going to completely change how these systems are going to function. None of our native species really know how to utilize or compete with this.
“There’s some discussions about nutritional quality, it gets the berry on it and whether or not the birds benefit from it is questionable. There’s some research has been done that the leaf litter in dense colonies, as that enters a stream, it changes the water chemistry of the stream, and that might impact some of the aquatic life in there as well.”
The group will uproot the smallest sprouts and discard them on leaf litter where they cannot regrow. The larger plants will be cut with loppers or a chainsaw and the stumps will be treated with a herbicide. Currently, there are no plans to replace the bushes with native seedlings or seeding.
“With the existing timber stand that’s here, it will try to reproduce and do things out of the native seedbank,” Frazier said. “We just have to get this competitor out of here. If we get rid of the competition, we can let nature carry on here.”
The program is being used as a type of experimental or pilot program. Several agents from the MDC were taking samples of the honeysuckle to gauge the density of infestation, and the area of eradication will be measured and timed to determine an average rate of removal to use as an estimate for future programs.
Mark Marberry is a reporter for the Farmington Press and Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3629, or at firstname.lastname@example.org