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Gordon Chenery tells
us about honeysuckle


You've probably heard of honeysuckle. It makes pretty yellow flowers and when you pluck a ripe honeysuckle flower and bring the back of the flower to your lips, you get a tiny drop of delicioius sweetness. But honeysuckle also has a nasty reputation as an invasive species.

There are actually about 180 species of honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.), many of which are native, and some are protected as endangered species. In Davidson County, four species of honeysuckle are considered severe invasive threats.

In our West Meade Woods, non-native honeysuckle can invade forests, eventually forming a thick impenetrable shrub layer between 3 and 8 feet. The success of honeysuckle depends in part on chemical warfare ("allelopathy"): the plants produce toxins that inhibit the growth of nearby plants. In addition, these honeysuckles leaf-out in early spring long before the native shrubs. This is real trouble for spring ephemeral flowers. Ephemerals that carpet our vernal slopes have timed their emergence to beat the native shrubs and trees. Their whole strategy is built around catching the first warm spring sun. When honeysuckles replaces native shrubs, they steal this early light, shading out spring ephemerals which can no longer survive.

We encourage removal of honeysuckle, but make sure you don't pull out a native look-alike, such as tasty spicebush (which is great for making tea), or bladdernut (a shrub-sized pea family plant with neat bladder-pod seeds). Unlike these two shrubs, honeysuckles have paired opposite leaves that are slightly angled along their stems.

INVASIVE:Honeysuckle NATIVE:Spicebush NATIVE:Bladdernut