Lonicera japonica is the scientific name for Japanese Honeysuckle, one of the fastest growing and invasive species of plants in the United States. When controlled, it is prized for the fragrant scent of its flowers. People, especially children, birds and other animals also enjoy the honey-like taste of its nectar from which it derives its common name.
Japanese honeysuckle is a woody plant that grows as a climbing vine. It climbs by wrapping around objects. It produces yellow and white flowers in pairs. Japanese honeysuckle has opposite leaves that are separated at their base, unlike other types of honeysuckle that have joined leaves. Root systems are extensive, spreading as much as 10 feet across and 3 feet deep. The plant produces tiny black berries that house 5 or 6 seeds.
Japanese honeysuckle is not native to the United States. It originates in Japan, China and other parts of Asia. It was first brought to New York in 1806 for its ornamental value and its attractiveness to hummingbirds. Reports of its uncontrolled spread did not surface until 1898.
Its rapid, twining growth pattern causes Japanese honeysuckle to climb over plants beneath it. It spreads through seeds and cuttings, and is capable of sending out new shoots on its own if the plant has enough room to grow. This type of growth makes Japanese honeysuckle difficult to contain. As such, it is listed as a noxious weed in Illinois and Virginia and has been completely banned in New Hampshire.
Japanese honeysuckle grows into a dense growth very quickly, starving plants beneath it of sunlight, water, air flow and soil nutrients. The understory plants cannot develop seeds and die out. When it covers trees and shrubs in this manner, honeysuckle can, with time, force the tree or shrub to collapse from the weight of the dense foliage. This destructive nature destroys native plant life, squeezing it out a little at a time until it is completely displaced.
Early plant identification and removal is the best way to control Japanese Honeysuckle. Once it takes hold and spreads, there are several methods for eradicating it. Hand-pulling is effective if the vines have not become too large and woody to be handled in this manner. A controlled burn under the supervision of a restoration expert is effective for young growth and may need to be repeated annually in the spring and fall until the spread is stopped. Cutting larger growth with a lopper or handsaw will slow the growth but new sprouts will emerge. Treat new sprouts with herbicide and repeat annually until new sprouts cease to emerge.