Outdoors

The honeysuckle is among 'fraud' plants

The Nature Call: Non-native plants don't host needed insects

A Burr Oak trunk with ornamental honeysuckle in green, native bushes turning yellow. (John Lawrence Hanson/correspondent)
A Burr Oak trunk with ornamental honeysuckle in green, native bushes turning yellow. (John Lawrence Hanson/correspondent)
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The first time I knowingly encountered honeysuckle was on a sixth-grade field trip to a nature reserve in the coulees of western Wisconsin.

The flowers were bright and sweet.

What do you remember?

I didn’t think much about honeysuckle until I started teaching. My campus is flanked with a line of woods paralleling Indian Creek. The ornamental honeysuckle blooms vividly and then holds onto their green leaves long after all the other plants have surrendered to the approach of winter.

A curiosity only. Do you notice honeysuckle?

No more a benign interloper. No more a tolerated neighbor. Now I know it’s a thief, a fraud and an unredeemable enemy.

But it’s not just our fashionable honeysuckle. It’s the Norway maple, the burning bush and barberry, too. All of them, rapacious gluttons. They take but don’t give. Their beauty is only as deep as their reflections.

Recently at the Green Leadership Summit, I was challenged to change the world. Or rather the event host, Clark McLeod, tasked me to help make Linn County a model for the nation of how to live in a way that is friendly to pollinating insects.

The challenge came after a speech by professor Doug Tallamy, from the University of Delaware. He spoke as fast as an auctioneer and raised the emotions of the audience like one, too.

What was his message? Simple really: native plants host multitudes of insects that start the food chain. Even hummingbirds get 80 to 90 percent of their nutrition from insects. Tallamy said you can’t build a hummingbird out of sugar water.

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By contrast, non-natives plants rarely host insects. All you get is looks. Worse, non-native plants take up space that could be a true life giving plant.

Native oaks host 275 insect species, ginkgos zero. Viburnum nurtures 75 odd species, ornamental honeysuckle none. Turf grass is little better than concrete. A quantitative chasm that is invisible until you know the truth.

My eyes wear new glasses and what I see gives me pause. Even my own castle is landscaped with plants that are like wax fruit. They are a still life.

I loved the Red Green Show, no surprise there. The show ended as “the lodge” gathered for a meeting commencing with their humble prayer, “I’m a man. And I can change. If I have to, I guess.” Honest and committed.

Enough honest and committed people can change the world. Or at least our little slice. Because there still is life.

Looking up, looking ahead, and keeping my pencil sharp.

John Lawrence Hanson, Ed.D., of Marion teaches U.S. history with an emphasis on environmental issues at Linn-Mar High School and sits on the Linn County Conservation Board.

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Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.