By Mark Jordan
It is easy to spot and identify in late autumn. The tall deciduous trees, the oaks, the hickories and others, have but a few brown leaves still clinging to their skeleton frames. Below, on shorter plants, abundant leaves remain green. A drive in the country reveals this late season green plant growing at the edge of a woodlot, deep in a forest or in abandoned fields. It is in the fall that its abundance becomes most visible. It is exotic and invasive bush Honeysuckle.
Nonnative Honeysuckles such as Amur Honeysuckle, Showy Fly Honeysuckle, Common Fly Honeysuckle and others were introduced into the United States from Eurasia more than 100 years ago. They were brought into new habitats for ornamental reasons, for erosion control and for wildlife cover. In the absence of repeated fires and in grazed and disturbed wooded areas the exotic Honeysuckles have reproduced rapidly and spread widely.
There are woodland and savanna areas now in Nachusa Grasslands where the Honeysuckle has become abundant over many decades and is disruptive to the native ecosystems. These multi-stemmed bushes can grow up to twelve feet tall and form very thick shrub layers that prevent the growth of native species by decreasing the amount of light reaching the forest floor and by using up nutrients and water in the soil. Honeysuckles are considered an allelopathic species as they release chemicals into the soil that inhibit the growth of native species. Birds that may build nests in Honeysuckle are more susceptible to predation because the Honeysuckle branches are nearer the ground than native bushes. The abundant berries, while high in carbohydrates, do not produce the fats and nutrients needed by migrating birds in the fall.
I have been a steward of the East Tellabs Unit at Nachusa Grasslands since 2011. With the help of many volunteers, other stewards and the Nachusa crew, we have cut and treated thousands of Honeysuckle plants of all sizes. It is rewarding to use a pair of loppers or a saw to cut a plant near its base and treat the stump with a chemical to kill the Honeysuckle and prevent resprouting. The forest floor is exposed and sunlight may reach it for the first time in years. Other methods of attacking this invasive plant include chemically spraying the leaves, applying chemicals to the base of the plant and seasonal fires.
The work to decrease the Honeysuckles continues. A few hours working among the Honeysuckle can leave one tired, sweaty, sore, scratched and covered in burrs. Yet the tired and sore will go home feeling proud for doing a necessary task that makes a difference in the diversity and ecology of the woodlands and savannas. Each Saturday a Nachusa steward leads a volunteer workday. You might collect seeds, you might pull weeds, you might pile deadfall, or you might cut, treat, stack and burn Honeysuckle.
Text and Photography by Tellabs Steward Mark Jordan
Of course I am speaking about Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota), a non–native plant Nachusa Grasslands stewards and volunteers remove from the prairie!
At first glance, the Queen Anne's lace is lovely, with its elegant white flower head and delicate, fern–like leaves. In addition, as you walk amongst a stand of Queen Anne's, you are greeted with a wonderful carrot aroma, hence the plant's "Wild Carrot" nickname.
While enjoying some lively camaraderie, some volunteers used a spade to remove the Queen Anne's, but most of us just used our muscles and determination to pull them out. After all the rain we have had, the roots easily released from the prairie soil.
What a joy to work hard all morning, surrounded by beautiful scenery and the quiet sounds of nature! Yes, the work can be physical (as much as you choose), but there are some wonderful benefits. There are days in the field when I look up from my task, only to enjoy a herd of bison grazing in the distance. A beautiful bird may perch on a prairie plant near me to sing me a sweet song. As I worked with this amazing group of people, I could feel the stress of my everyday life just melt away. I know Nachusa calls it a workday, but every time I volunteer it is actually a "fun day" for me, filled with a lot of good–natured banter (and great snacks!).
Since first discovering Nachusa in 2012, I try to return weekly to volunteer. The prairie is like a big garden to me and boy, do I love to garden! The kind, respectful community of volunteers this preserve attracts, as well as the the wonderful fellowship we share together, also draws me. I love building relationships with these new friends and professionals interested in land conservation. I have gained many new skills and feel my efforts are greatly appreciated and really make a difference. As always, it was wonderful to be a part of the workday and admire the immediate results of all our efforts together. I left that day, with a feeling of euphoria, amazed at what we had accomplished as a group.
Come join us! I promise you a rewarding experience!
The blog this week was written by Dee Hudson, a volunteer and photographer for Nachusa. To see more prairie images, visit her website at www.deehudsonphotography.com.
I am a nature photographer, a freelance graphic designer, and steward at Nachusa's Thelma Carpenter Prairie. I have taken photos for Nachusa since 2012.
I have been a high school French teacher, registered piano technician, and librarian. In retirement I am a volunteer historian at Lee County Historical and Genealogical Society.