Invasive honeysuckle is taking over Kansas City land. Satellites could be the solution

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Illustration by Sooim Kang

Back in 1961, Amur honeysuckle was only found in a few places around the country.

In the sixty years since, it has become a growing problem throughout the Midwest. Forests from Pittsburgh to Minneapolis are choked with the honeysuckle’s bright green leaves, white-yellow blooms and small red berries.

After a half century of losing the battle with this invasive species, recent developments in satellite mapping may make it easier to track down and eradicate patches before they spread.

Honeysuckle is a problem.

Although honeysuckle is not necessarily hard on the eyes, it is definitely a problem for Kansas City because it grows vigorously and is extremely hardy in cold weather. “Compared to native vegetation, bush honeysuckle leaves come out early in the spring and stay green longer in the fall,” says Dr. Denis Conover, a biology professor at the University of Cincinnati who researches non-native invasive species. “It shades out the native plants and it can spread very fast from the berries. Where you might have thousands of native species in a woodland, potentially you could wind up with just a monoculture of honeysuckle.”

The plant is a major focus of Linda Lehrbaum, program manager of Kansas City WildLands, an organization that promotes biodiversity in local parklands. “At this point, there’s so much shrub honeysuckle out here producing berries that this is going to be an unwinnable war,” Lehrbaum says. “So it’s a matter of trying to protect what’s not dead yet.”

Satellite mapping could be the solution.

The same trait that makes honeysuckle spread so fast can also be a key to stopping it, according to a University of Cincinnati study on the benefits of satellite mapping. Because it’s hardier than the plants around it, you can spot it as green in the late fall and early spring when other plants have died back. “You want to get an image when the honeysuckle is still green and the native vegetation is brown,” says Bridget Taylor, a former UC student who studied the plant in the Cincinnati area. “The season and the timing will be different, but the same method can still work.”

If you are looking to get rid of honeysuckle in your yard, experts like Lehrbaum and Conoveremphasize how important it is to apply herbicide on the stump after cutting the bush down. “If you don’t put herbicide on the stump, it’ll resprout,” Conover says.

“This plant actually has the potential to destroy our urban forest,” Lehrbaum says. “We can only work on very small areas because if we tried to clear all the honeysuckle in Kansas City, our heads would explode.”

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