On the Trail: Battling the bush honeysuckle

On a nice weather day in early December last year, I took a walk around Campus Lake. I usually park where the boardwalk is now (where the beach used to be). Often, I'll do some chin-ups on the bars near the start of the trail to get the blood flowing.

I always start walking west, through the woods. I watch for birds in the trees and scan the lake for interesting waterfowl. Around the holidays there are ornaments hanging on some of the trailside shrubs. And sometimes someone has left some bird seed on the railing of the bridge. Both the ornaments and the ephemeral bird feeder make me smile.

Of course, I walk the trail year-round, and each season offers a different perspective of the forest.

In winter, you can mostly see through the woods, making it easy to spot little sparrows and squirrels digging through the leaf litter.

There are still a few green woody plants in the woods in winter, though. Red cedars are, of course, evergreen, as are the holly bushes and trees that are sprinkled through the woods and along the trail.

The most common still-green woody plant along the trail in early December, though, is the conspicuous bush honeysuckle, with its Mountain Dew green-colored leaves and bright red berries.

Bush honeysuckle is a nonnative, shade-tolerant bush that thrives in Illinois to the detriment of other native plant species. The exotic honeysuckle invades forest understories, crowding out native shrubs, groundcovers and wildflowers.

Efforts are ongoing around southern Illinois to control bush honeysuckle on state and federal lands, with strike teams of conservation professionals being dispatched to kill bush honeysuckle plants, among other invasive species, on the hundreds of thousands of protected lands in the region.

I actually had a mini-strike team visit my little backyard park a couple of summers ago and lay waste to some bush honeysuckle and stilt grass on my property.

And I've written about an ongoing effort by the Union Hill Homeowners Association to fight invasive plant species in their neighborhood.

The good news is that controlling bush honeysuckle is a pretty straightforward operation.

The most effective way to kill the bigger bush honeysuckle plants is to cut the stumps and apply a small amount of chemical to the cut stump. Young plants are shallow rooted and easily pulled from the ground. And it's possible to remove larger plants, without using chemicals, by using a grubbing tool to pull them up.

As I walked along the trail taking pictures of the bush honeysuckle, I got to thinking that there could/should be an effort to remove bush honeysuckle from around Campus Lake. Surely, there is a group that could take this on. There's probably even a little grant money that could be found to help with the effort.

For the record, I'll be efforting getting some group interested in taking on the project of invasive species control around Campus Lake, so don't be surprised if you see something happening out there sooner rather than later!

Michael Eric Baltz writes about the changing world from his home in Carbondale.