Sunday, January 30, 2011

Not a Good Weekend to be Japanese Honeysuckle

I had the “opportunity” to spend this weekend pulling out Japanese Honeysuckle in Amicalola Falls State Park.  Having invasive plants in State Parks seems especially awful – land that the state has set aside as a park should be free of pests.  However, the forces that carry invasives (wind, water and wildlife) know no boundaries.  

It was a beautiful weekend, warm and sunny.  The park was full of visitors: young couples, Boy Scout hikers, families with young kids, older folks and lots of dogs!  I have never spent much time at our state parks, but I can see the appeal.  The price of admission is $5 per car, and there is a lot to see and do.  You can get an annual pass if you are a frequent visitor.  I encourage everyone to visit the website of Georgia State Parks and get familiar with our state parks - they need our support.  Here are some kids having a great time in one of the streams around lunchtime.

My weekend was coordinated by the Georgia Native Plant Society.  This is our third weekend devoted to pulling invasives in this park.  Invasives can rarely be cleared in a single session – you invariably miss some and new seeds are always germinating.  It is nice to return and see the natural beauty of the areas that we cleared last time.  Of course the waterfalls are one of the main attractions in this park.  We spent most of our time clearing honeysuckle in this area.

Amicalola Falls

Our villain this week was Japanese Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica.  This invasive was brought over as an ornamental and behaved itself for many years before it morphed into invasive thug.  It now invades gardens and natural areas alike, strangling young trees and shrubs and smothering out timid perennials.  The white and yellow flowers are very fragrant and invoke fond memories for many people.  But the dark blue berries allow this plant to spread far away from where people have planted it deliberately.  Winter is a great time to pull this plant – leaves are still visible and the soil is often moist enough to allow you to pull it out with few tools.  This vine often forms a knotty structure at soil level – a handy place to grab and pull.  The leaves can be green or bronze colored. 

Japanese honeysuckle knot
Japanese honeysuckle clump

In the woods, plants are not always so robustly obvious.  Much of the vine may be under leaves.  We spent most of our time scanning the area for the vine with the pale colored stem and oppositely arranged leaves.  Once you get that pattern burned in to your brain, you would be surprised at how well you can spot it.

Marcia pulling out honeysuckle
Opposite leaves, pale stem of Japanese honeysuckle

Our final total was 14 very large bags of honeysuckle.  It is still too early to spot any plants in bloom, but we uncovered a few treasures as we cleared out the honeysuckle.  This Chimaphila maculata will thrive now that the honeysuckle is gone, and the native Hydrangea arborescens will shine a little brighter without the competition wrapping itself around its branches.

Chimaphila maculata
Hydrangea arborescens

Despite the work, the time spent was very enjoyable.  We were able to use a cabin overnight and the five of us enjoyed a nice dinner together.  Sometimes people would stop and ask us what we were doing - so we had some opportunities to explain why we take time to remove invasive plants.  Of course we picked up trash as we found it and laughed at some of the sights like this old vehicle stuck in the woods – rumored to be the remains of a moonshiner’s truck.

Quercus montana, Chestnut oak

Even with the lack of blooms, signs of spring were everywhere.  Buds on the trees were just starting to swell and under the dead leaves were the new leaves of many perennials like asters and goldenrod.  Many different oak trees were in the area, but the new sprouts on these Chestnut Oak acorns (Quercus montana) were especially noticeable throughout the area in which we worked.  Spring is right around the corner!

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