Saturday, November 7, 2015

9 Native Replacements for Bush Honeysuckle

(American Wild Plum, Black Haw Viburnum, and Flowering Dogwood in bloom-Click HD)

Driving from metropolitan area to the next, you may notice as you're driving on the highway a significant decrease in invasive vegetation the further you get away from a metropolitan and significant increase in invasive vegetation the closer you get to the next one. One study found that Horticulture aka the art of landscaping, has brought us 82% of the invasive woody plants currently present in the environment. Since our cities and towns are the main places where horticulture is practices, they tend to be hubs for old, "on the rise", and new invasive plants. In the Cincinnati/NKY/Southeast Indiana Metropolitan Bush Honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) is one of our older invasive plants, and most established/destructive species. Due to its origin in a colder bio-region of within Asia, it holds on to its leaves well into late November locally, and begins budding out in late March. Due to its early onset of leaves, spring wildflowers of the forest can't take advantage of the early season sunlight before the trees put there leaves on in the canopy. This leads to this shrub destroying wildflower diversity within forests. Furthermore, since we've fragmented what was once more or less a continuous forest ecosystem, honeysuckle now dominates on the edges of forest which would be a niche native shrubs and small native trees like those I'll list below. This species is at the point where you could just stop mowing your lawn, and in 5 years, your lawn will have become a formidable thicket of honeysuckle forming (Don't test that statement out.).

I'd like to list 9 native replacements for once you've removed honeysuckle from your property, that not only beautify and attract native wildlife, but also have the adaptability to spread/reproduce and reclaim the niche that the honeysuckle had been occupying.

Full Sun Exposure Replacements (+6 Hours Sun Exposure)

To the left is a picture of 2 American Hazelnuts (Corylus americana) in prime fall color at UK Arboretum in Lexington, Kentucky in 2012 (The pictures below shows their growth since then). Hazelnuts are one our most widespread, hardy shrubs finding niches within Forest, Savannah, and Prairie ecosystems. In Cincinnati this shrub is rarely seen, likely having it's potential niches occupied fully by Bush Honeysuckle, the dominant invasive of the moment.

American Hazelnut - Corylus americana

Once established one can observe quite the action within and around them. The nuts are consumed by Ring-Necked Pheasant, Bobwhite Quail, Wild Turkey, Ruffed Grouse, Greater Prairie Chicken, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay amongst others. The male catkins and buds are a source of food during the winter for the Ruffed Grouse and Wild Turkey. Mammals also chow down including the Eastern Chipmunk, Gray Squirrel, Fox Squirrel, Red Squirrel, White-Footed Mouse, and Deer Mouse. White-Tailed Deer and Cottontail Rabbits browse on the twigs and leaves so leave the shrubs protected until well over 4' high. 

This is a picture from a different view of the same two shrubs 3 years later. They've been allowed to completely grow together creating a tall 9' hedge, but could be trimmed horticulturally and maintained at much shorter heights if desired. The lighter free clusters at the end of the twigs bundles of hazelnuts, palatable to human consumption as well. Due to this dense branching structure and large leaves, it naturally provides excellent cover for various kinds of wildlife and good nesting habitat for songbirds. Plant American Hazelnut on wood edges that are exposed to Southern and/or Southwestern sunlight or in full-sun for best growth. The plant can grow with less sunlight, but will produce less nuts. These will tolerate moderately poorly drained soil, as well as rocky dry soils throughout the midwestern climates. 

(American Wild Plum, a sporadically occurring species with interesting attributes)

American Wild Plum - Prunus americana

American Wild Plum is a fast growing, thicket forming species of the Cherry genus (Prunus americana). The flowers are stunning when mixed with Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) which blooms near the same time. Like many plants in the Prunus (Cherry) genus, it is most popular with a wide variety of pollinators. It is adapted to poor rocky soils, sandy, silty, and clay bound soils, the most constricting condition to this plant along with all other plant life is compaction. No plant life thrives under those conditions. Plant American wild plum along southeastern, southern, southwestern, and western exposed wood edges after honeysuckle removal and they'll colonize through underground roots. Though if you would like wildlife, or your friends to feast on the plump-plum flavored fruits, plant multiple uncultivated (non-cultivar/clone) plants within 20-30 feet from each other and as close as 7 ft from each other to ensure cross pollination. For more information on the American Wild Plum, see this link. The thicket pattern of growth, and branching structure is also idea for nesting habit for adapted birds.  Photo Credit to Larry Reis of the plum fruit. Flowers open in April.

Eastern Redbud - Cercis Canadensis

Eastern Redbud is a commonly sold native tree that is adapted to full-sun conditions as well as partially shaded conditions. The actual root/crown of the tree can easily live for over 35 years, by pruning the old-quickly decaying wood back to the main leaders allowing new heartwood and sapwood to develop. Otherwise the original trunks will fall apart after 25-30 years on average as a very quickly growing and climaxing small tree. 

Native pollinators as well as honeybees are very well adapted to the April emerging flowers. When selecting native trees/shrubs, understand that each species plays a intricate role to the complex ecosystem that extends from deep into the soil into the sky above the canopy of a forest.  I won't deceive you by saying plant this, over that, because of this 1 select reason, such as pollinator support. Nature cannot be simplified in such a way, so a general rule of thumb is to plant some of everything to maximize diversity, based on how they occur in the wild. In the wild, Eastern Redbud occurs in prairie openings in harsh dry soils, forest openings, woodlands, and savannah. You can often find them, along with many of the other shrubs and trees listed on this blog post stretching out over creek and stream banks that naturally let light in through the canopy of the surrounding forest. For more information of the Eastern Redbud, follow this link

Partial Sun-Partial Shade Exposure (3-6 Hours Sun Exposure)

(PawPaw can take full sun, but thrives in partial sun exposure, between 3-6 hours of sun exposure)

Pawpaw - Asimina triloba

Asimina triloba-Paw Paw, is one of the better know native fruit trees of the midwest. It produces the largest fruit in the United States. Though it can grow in moist soils in full sun, it also is a great candidate for planting on Northeastern, Eastern, Western, and Northwestern faced wood edges after honeysuckle removal. They produce more fruit in the sun, but again require ample soil moisture. Locally they have niches in nearly all forest types, creating colonies on the forest floor and waiting patiently for canopy trees to fall to shoot up into the mid story and begin producing fruit/seed. The aesthetic of the tree speaks for itself. The dark green, thickly leaved, pyramidal shaped trees standout in any landscape, though they're best planted on a wood edge or in a bed surrounded by lawn so the suckers do not create a thicket where undesired. The flowers are pollinated by flies and beetles, and tend to get pollinated effectively but insects but require genetically distinct (non-clones/suckers) plants to set fruit. As long as you're willing to give them a couple of inches of water during a drought, feel free to give them over 6 hours of sun, otherwise utilize them in partially shaded/sun exposed conditions. For more information on PawPaw, follow this link.

(Blackhaw Viburnum is one of the most common and adaptable viburnums)

Blackhaw Viburnum - Viburnum prunifolium

Viburnum prunifolium is adapted to considerably deep shade of the many different non-floodplain forest types. On southern and western faced slopes in southwest Ohio, where shallow limestone/shale soils stunt the overstory, this species thrives alongside Eastern Redbud and Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida). In the landscape, like Pawpaw, this species easily withstands full-sun exposure in moderately moist soils, but thrives in sun exposures of between 3-6 hours. To date, 104 and moth/butterflies have been found to lay they eggs and rear their caterpillars on the foliage of the Viburnum genus. The flowers, also open in April around the same time as Redbud and American Wild Plum. A wide variety of pollinators utilize as you'll see a few in the video I shot of them this past spring of 2015. The berries are consumed by early winter by songbirds. The fall color ranges from pinkish to light burgundy red. You can expect the plants to turn into multi-trunked small thickly branched trees of about 10 feet wide and 15 feet tall. For more info, follow this link

(Flowering Dogwood naturally grows in prairie openings, forest understories and wood edges)

Flowering Dogwood - Cornus florida

Flowering dogwood is a small 15' wide by 15+' tall conspicuously flowering tree. The flower petals are called bracts, a form of color altered leaf that beckons pollinators to the cluster of true flowers in the center of the bracts. See the video below to see that process in action. Flowering Dogwood is exceptionally adapted to dry soil conditions when in partial shade, this is noted by it's ability to persist in shallow rocky southern/western sloped forests in the understory catching sunlight through the stunted canopy of trees. In adams county, you can often find them penetrating the edges of prairies which have such inhabitable soils, our most adapted tree that can actually close the prairie openings is only the Eastern Red cedar which is known to grow out of cracks in rocks. Hike your local forests in early May, and look for this flowering tree while paying attention to the niche it is developing in, they're often found in forest canopy openings as well where large trees have fallen and the forest is yet to close back up. The bright red fruit, and reddish maroon fall color send signals to songbirds that the feast has begun. Through primarily bird distribution the plants are spread far and wide but mostly succeed if they land in the above described niches. If you have a forested wood edge, plant it about 10 feet off it, as this dogwood was bird planted off the wood edge in the above picture. Alternatively, plant it on the western or eastern side of your home to give it shade at some point in the day. In moderately moist, uncompacted soils, they also can thrive in full-sun. For more information on the flowering dogwood, follow this link.

(Euonymous atropurpureus-Eastern Wahoo is a native alternative to the invasive Burning Bush)

Eastern Wahoo - Euonymous atropurpureus

Eastern Wahoo is a plant unknown to most gardeners and "plant people" alike. This is one of our native plants of the Eunymous genus, which horticulture has brought us invasive counter parts Eunymous fortuneii (Winter Creeper Euonymous) and Burning Bush (Eunymous alatus) from other continents. This particular native Euonymous (Eastern Wahoo) forms a small single trunk tree, which in maturity can get about 10' wide by 15' Tall. Even though our American Eastern Wahoo has not been cultivated/selected for fall color like the asiatic varieties, when given enough sun exposure, they give bright pink-reddish fall expressions which the leave behind pink colored fruit favorited by our native bird species. This plant is very adapted to shady conditions, and can most often be found on wood edges reach upwards and outwards away from the canopy trees to catch just enough sunlight to produce its fruit. Placing this plant on the Eastern or Western side of your home, or of a large to medium sized tree is good placement. This plant will likely not thrive in very rocky compacted clay soils, just as nearly all plants do not thrive under those conditions. Select this plant to add diversity to your yard, and give this native a competitive advantage over our ever abundant invasive species by nurturing it in your landscape from which it will be spread around by birds. For more info on the Eastern Wahoo follow this link.  Photo credit of the Cardinal goes to Betty Hall

Partial-Full Shade ( 2 or less direct hours of sunlight)

 (Maple Leaf Viburnum grows in mature forests of varying canopy densities)

Maple leaf Viburnum - Viburnum acerifolium 

This Viburnum species grows in the full shade of the mature old growth forests and 2nd growth forests. Like spicebush, which we'll talk talk about below, this plant has the ability to reproduce long-term in the full shade of a forest canopy, not requiring openings to produce fruit and seed. The plant reaches its most ornamental impact on the wood edge, but this is one that can survive well with 1-2 direct hours of sunlight. With more sun exposure, the fall color is burgundy red as seen to the right, and in more shade the fall color is of light pink color ranges. Wildlife benefits are similar to Black haw Viburnum, it just tolerates more shade than black haw viburnum can, while still reproducing and flowering. This plant does not invade open habitats naturally, so it is best kept in less than 4 hours of direct sunlight for  optimal longevity. Try this shrub on the Northeast or Northwest corner of your home, of medium to large shade tree. Alternatively, remove the Bush Honeysuckle from your forested land, and replant in the understory with this species as well as the next species; Spicebush. For more information on Maple Leaf Viburnum follow this link.

Spicebush- Lindera benzoin

Spicebush is a native shrub that occurs in a many different forest types throughout primarily the eastern half of the U.S. It occurs in the understory of well drained and poorly drained hydrologies, occupying canopy openings, stream bank openings, forested wetlands and edges, and in fully shaded old growth forests. This species doesn't often invade open habitats, just like Maple Leaf Viburnum. It can proliferate on moist forest edges, and grow into beautiful thickly branched small tree form when given just enough moisture. Eastern, Northeastern, and Northwestern sides of homes and trees are good places to plant spice bush. If planting in the understory of a forest, place it near stream bank edges where it can reach out to gain sunlight from the slight opening created by the stream/ravine. It can thrive in full shade, but produces much more fruit when given just a hour or 2 of direct sunlight. This shrub is very deer tolerant, as its fragrant leaves are not very palatable. The berries however are loved by resident and migrating birds as they're high in lipids and proteins sequestered in the oily fruits. Compared to the invasive Bush Honeysuckle, spice bush berries are very much superior in nutrition for its consumers. It is one of the first native woody plants to bloom in the spring, often breaking bud by late March in local forest habitats. For more information on our native spice bush, follow this link.  Photo credit of fruit goes to Mary Anne Borge


My business Pioneer Landscapes is looking to help property owners in and near the Cincinnati Metropolitan transition their land back to ecological balance by planting native prairies in place of lawn, restoring forests/woodlands by removing honeysuckle/other involves and nurturing the existing native vegetations, as well as renovating their landscapes with native plant focused design. Wether you're interested in just consultancy/design, design + installation, or the full ride of design + installation + maintenance our services are being made available and affordable to the public. 

To learn more about our services follow this link. If you're interested in a free site/planning visit, within 50 miles of Cincinnati, contact us at 513-545-1079 or . 

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Please share this blog post in your network to raise awareness of the Bush Honeysuckle dilemma and alternatives.

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  1. "...once you've removed honeysuckle from your property... " I could use more information on that! The only thing I've found that kills the honeysuckle bush is wild grape, which I would also like to kill off!

    1. Cut Stump is my preferred method:

  2. Great suggestions here. I'll be removing honeysuckle this weekend. When should I plant these native replacements and where are some places where I can order them?