COVINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Biologists from Northern Kentucky University have begun studying whether restoration efforts will give forests and banks the ability to keep honeysuckle from returning once the invasive plant has been rooted out.
Professors Richard Boyce and Kristine Hopfensperger of the school's Center for Applied Ecology started a five-to-seven year study of the issue in an area where the plant has run wild in stream beds and greenspace disturbed by development.
NKU Ecologist Devin Schen told The Kentucky Enquirer (http://bit.ly/S8aPdn ) scientists are working on the theory that the forest is in good shape and can resist the invasive plant.
"When we remove it from the forest, how resistant is that forest from being reinvaded?" Schenk asks.
Areas cleared of the weed have sprouted more than 50 individual plants of the endangered Nodding Rattlesnake Master plant, and Running Buffalo Clover, another endangered species.
Honeysuckle sprouts its leaves earlier in the spring than nearly any native plant and sheds them later in the fall, blotting out the sun for any latecomers. But then it lays down a chemical through its leaves that acts as an herbicide to any upstarts hardy enough to withstand the light deprivation, killing off the competition.
Schenk said early results from the experiment are promising. The researchers have taken soil from forested areas that are overrun by honeysuckle, areas that have been cleared for five years and from open fields, putting all the samples in a greenhouse to see what grows. Areas that had been cleared of honeysuckle had very few seeds in the soil.
Next, they set seed traps that captured seeds blown by the wind or dropped by birds. The fields were relatively free of seeds, but forests had more due to a bird's tendency to answer the call of nature when flying off of a perch rather than while airborne. Whether healthy forest areas can keep the seeds from germinating and growing remains to be seen.
The benefits of clearing the land are apparent along the Licking River, Hawthorne Crossing Conservation Area, near Alexandria.
"People are able to use the property more," Schenk said. Honeysuckle creates this impenetrable thicket in the forest. Removing that allows human access to natural areas."
Covington Recreation Director Natalie Gardner said volunteers have spent more than 2,000 total hours trying to clear the plant from a nature trail along Covington's Licking waterfront.
"I can't tell you how mature the honeysuckle growth was," Gardner said. "We called them monster honeysuckles."
The effort is ongoing, and the team hopes to eventually clear the riverbank and levees of weeds.
"For us, it's a really big deal because we're trying to improve the views of the area. Right now, it's dense like rainforest bush," Gardner said.
Information from: The Kentucky Enquirer, http://www.nky.com