TOPEKA, Kan. – Jamie Hancock recently wrote a news column about attracting hummingbirds during spring. Since then, she’s been fielding the same questions: “What’s a honeysuckle tree? Do you think I should I plant one?”
Hancock is a prize-winning popular writer, as well as a horticulturist with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Still, she freely admits she probably should have been less descriptive and more scientific.
Like the flowering dogwood tree, the Amur honeysuckle can mature in the wild at a tree-sized, 30-feet tall – the height of a three-story building, she explained. In Kansas, though, the Amur and wild dogwood usually top out at 12- to 15-feet tall. They even prefer growing in the same kinds of areas in dappled shade next to woodlands.
“Those facts point to several differences between the Amur and the cultivated honeysuckle varieties Kansans can buy at the nursery,” Hancock said. “The nursery plants can be vines or shrubs. The cultivated varieties also tend to be quite a bit shorter than the Amur honeysuckle, and they’re more sun-loving.”
Scientifically, the Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) is just another shrub – a tall, multi-stemmed native of northeast Asia. But, given its current U.S. status, Hancock also could correctly class it as an invasive woody weed. That’s why she’d never recommend planting it, even though it does attract hungry hummingbirds.
Americans imported the Amur honeysuckle in the late 1800s to control soil erosion, provide wildlife cover and serve as a landscape plant. It succeeded only too well, she said. In most central and eastern U.S. states, it can easily become a ubiquitous landscape weed. It spreads and adapts so well that it also can develop into a dense understory thicket that restricts native woodlands’ growth – including the growth of seedling trees.
“It crowds out native grasses and woody plants that wildlife use for food and shelter,” Hancock said, “This can almost force birds to eat the Amur’s abundant supply of seed-carrying berries. In turn, those birds are the main reason the shrub spreads so far and wide. But, the berries don’t have the nutrients birds need for migrating.”
Nowadays, conservation groups such as Kansas City WildLands! are working to destroy Amur honeysuckles in uncultivated areas, so native plants can regain a foothold, the horticulturist said. USDA’s Forest Service provides color photos and control recommendations for the Amur honeysuckle on the Web (http://www.invasive.org/weedcd/pdfs/wow/amur-honeysuckle.pdf).
K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.
Story by: Kathleen Wardkward@ksu.eduK-State Research & Extension News
Jamie Hancock is at 785-232-0062 ext. 104