Honeysuckle is found in many habitats such as forest edges, abandoned fields, roadsides, and open woodlands, especially those that have been disturbed. Four invasive species of honeysuckle are found in Vermont: Morrow’s honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii), tartarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica), amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii), and Bell’s honeysuckle (Lonicera x bella). Morrow’s honeysuckle is most widespread with the highest densities found in Chittenden county followed by Addison county.
Invasive shrub honeysuckles are often much larger than native honeysuckles and can be identified by their oppositely arranged, egg-shaped leaves that lack fine hairs along the margins. Shrub honeysuckles often leaf out much earlier and retain leaves much later than native species making them easier to identify.
The flowers are tubular, can be yellow, white, or pink in color and appear throughout the early summer. Honeysuckle produces small, orange to bright red berries that ripen in early fall. The bark is usually lighter in color and can look braided or shaggy. Invasive honeysuckle also has a hollow stem center. This is the easiest way to tell the difference between invasive and native plants as native species have solid white stem centers.
Honeysuckle outcompetes native trees and shrubs. By leafing out earlier and retaining leaves later, honeysuckle has a competitive advantage and easily forms dense thickets. This reduces the amount of sunlight reaching the forest floor, decreasing the abundance of native vegetation. This competition can inhibit forest regeneration.
Honeysuckle also threatens bird populations. Songbirds that usually nest in native shrubs will also nest in honeysuckle. However, honeysuckle has thicker stems than native shrubs, which allows predators like raccoons and skunks to more easily access nests, resulting in increased predation. Honeysuckle berries are also readily eaten by birds, which also contributes to the plants’ prolific spread. These berries, however, do not provide a high-fat, nutrient-rich diet required by migratory birds for their long flights.
Control and Prevention
Mechanical removal by cutting or pulling plants can be effective. Pull honeysuckle by hand or by using a weed wrench. Plants can be pulled whenever the ground is soft enough and regrowth should be pulled twice a year for multiple years. Cut honeysuckle multiple times throughout the growing season. The cut and cover method can also be effective. Cut plants in the fall or winter and cover the stumps with burlap or thick plastic and tie tightly with rope or twine. Check sites periodically for new growth.
Large infestations of honeysuckle are most effectively treated chemically. Herbicide is typically applied to cut stumps or sprayed on leaves in the fall. For large infestations or growth in sensitive areas, contact a professional for chemical application.
The best method for preventing the spread of honeysuckle is early detection before plants grow large and become difficult to remove or produce berries and are spread further by birds.
It is also important that the entire plant and root system are removed when pulling plants. To prevent re-rooting, hang the root system from a branch. The risk of spreading honeysuckle can also be reduced by keeping soil intact as much as possible when removing plants as honeysuckle can easily colonize disturbed areas.
Honeysuckle was originally introduced as an ornamental. Do not plant honeysuckle in your garden and carefully choose plants for your property. All non-native shrub honeysuckle species are on the Vermont Noxious Weed Quarantine list, and it is illegal to purchase, plant, or transport them in the state.
Native Plant Sources
Check out Native Plant Sources for places to purchase plants native to Vermont.