Aliens From Inner Space


Can you guess the name of the plant in the photo, growing sprightly green in the woods when everything else is as brown as a pot of baked beans? The first time I noticed it, many years ago, I was mystified. As I studied it close up, I realized that it was something I had planted as a seedling when we first moved here and then promptly forgot about. I am very good at that. Now every year when winter approaches, as I watch to see which trees and bushes (other than evergreens) stay green the longest, this doughty bush always wins the contest. It outlasts weeping willows and peach trees, the usual runner-ups. I draw the kind of optimism from this strange plant that I need to head into cold weather with my chin up.

It’s a Tatarian bush honeysuckle. I got it, if I remember correctly, from the Soil Conservation Service, which was encouraging landowners to put out plants that produce food for wildlife, in this case tiny red berries. I’ve learned the hard way that just because the Department of Agriculture champions something does not mean it is a good idea. The USDA also championed autumn olive and multiflora rose at one time and I was dumb enough to plant some. Both are great for wildlife but a curse on the farmer, in my opinion. One other time I followed governmental advice. I planted Kentucky 31 fescue in my pastures. There are better fescues to plant now, believe me. K-31 stays green into winter to make cold weather pasture, but I maintain, only a little jokingly, that this forage comes from genes of some non-vegetative fabric that needs to freeze and thaw twice before a cow can chew it. K-31’s advantage is that a herd of elephants could run across a well-established field of it in thaw time and hardly dimple the sod surface. I was told when I planted the stuff that “it will not spread.” That is an absolute lie, and I was pleased to see David Kline, in his charming new book, “Letters from Larksong,” agree.

But I lucked out with Tatarian honeysuckle. It is not native here so I still don’t trust it, but it is not invasive like its terrible cousin, Japanese honeysuckle. The latter is a vine that almost succeeded in dragging all the trees in the northern halves of Kentucky and West Virginia into the Ohio River before weed-killers came along. I theorize that it suffocated to death whatever planet it first grew on and then kept on growing through space until they found Earth.

Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculata) is just as bad as Japanese honeysuckle (both have been sold as attractive ornamentals in the past) and it is now encroaching woodland all over. I have to blame myself rather than a government expert for this monster because I planted it out of my own ignorance (how frail we all are in the inner spaces of the brain). I thought I was planting American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens). Oriental bittersweet is capable of climbing a goodly-sized tree and choking it to death. It can also cover the floor of a woodlot with an impenetrable jungle of vines. It has rounded leaves and the orange berries occur at many points along the stem. American bittersweet has longer, narrower leaves and the berries occur in clusters at the end of the vines which make it the more attractive of the two for fall decoration. American bittersweet is not nearly as invasive and destructive. The two are actually hybridizing now and the crosses tend to favor the Oriental.

I’ve waited in vain and in ignorance for quite a few years for mine to grow clusters of berries on it. Just recently, reading a magazine, “Woodlands and Prairies,” I realized my mistake. The magazine’s description (Fall, 2009 issue) of the destructiveness of Oriental bittersweet is frightening. I intend to spray the living bejeebers out of my planting next spring and I might not say anything negative about Monsanto for at least, oh, maybe three months.

There’s something else about alien bittersweet and honeysuckle species that could be handy to know if you raise livestock. Sheep and cows like to graze them both a whole lot more than K- 31 fescue.


I would have to uproot the entire forest floor. 125 acres of uprooted madness. Maybe I should hire some hogs and do just that.

New David Kline book! Dear Santa, …

There’s an outfit that sells a tool to uproot the chinese honeysuckle; I just use a spudbar and a piece of 2 X 4 or 4 X 4 as a fulcrum. The idea is to get under the root ball and pop everything you can get under, up. Not certain if it works, but it IS good exercise, and no chemicals other than sweat are involved. I’m not certain if it’s true, but I have heard that the chinese honeysuckle somehow competes with morel mushrooms, so I’m pretty hatey towards the honeysuckle, no matter what eats it or it’s berries.

Gershon, Earl Butz is the textbook example of what happens when Ph.Ds run things: the Great Grain Robbery, and the beginning of the end of fencerows and woods in the country. We were going to be the breadbasket of the world. It wasn’t his incompetence that did him in, it was his sense of humor.

Just to add another wrinkle – I have heard that plant species can take up to three hundred years to become noticeable invasive in a new habitat.

> Sheep and cows like to graze them both a whole lot more than K- 31 fescue.

He-he, I was waiting for this through the whole article 🙂 It’s only a weed if the sheep don’t eat it, otherwise it’s a blessing. I love most of the “invasives” because my sheep love them too 🙂 Can’t beat the “invaisevs” in providing all this free fodder 🙂

P.S. I was able to restrain myself so far but I really want to plant something as potent as kudzu just so the next year I can chuckle and say: “Yep, they did this one in too, my terrible minions” 🙂 And the minions will say: “Baaaaa!”

It could be worse, Gene–you could have planted kudzu! I’ve always been thankful that wild blackberries and poison oak have properties that are so obviously non-friendly to the general landscape that even the garden centers and extension agents don’t recommend them. Hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving–eat well and be thankful; with all its problems this is still a great country to live in!

The trick is to find something these plants are really good for and -then make them illegal to grow. That seems to work for keeping certain other types of plants out of the landscape!

Regarding the removal of problematic vine or brush species, I have some advice to offer which may provide a more benign solution than wholesale spraying, at least from the standpoint of any nearby plants. Here’s the procedure:

1. Using a saw or loppers, cut the offending plant at or near ground level.
2. Carefully apply concentrated glyphosate to the newly-cut surface of the stump which remains, taking care to thoroughly cover the outer ring of the stump. You should use concentrations of glyphosate (Roundup) at approximately 15-20%. The herbicide will be drawn into the roots, killing the plant.

This can be done at any time of year; I’ve had good luck with it in the fall and winter, which is helpful because spring and summer are generally busy with other work outside. It generally requires less herbicide than you would use for spraying the entire plant. Most importantly, it will largely eliminate collateral damage which might befall desirable species underneath or next to the target plants.

Good luck!

Gene, I’d suggest changing the title to “Outer Space” instead if “Inner Space.”

From watching Green Acres, I learned there is always an extension agent to “help.” So, when I was planning my garden, I called the local extension. They were very helpful. They told me the only way to control weeds was through chemicals. The chemicals were sold by a company I later learned makes large contributions to the extension here. Scuffle hoes are cheaper and work well.

I’ve learned it’s more helpful to take wisdom from my inner space than from outer space. Simply watching what happens has led me to many discoveries.

For instance, Koshia is lambasted by many as a noxious weed. I found it grows peacefully along the borders of the beds, retains moisture, and loosens the soil below the surface. It also keeps nutrients from flowing downhill with water movement underground.

Everyone says cottonwood trees are bad. But I’ve learned that if they are trimmed when they are young, the make very nice bushes. They can be shaped in anyway you like. I have one that looks like a candy apple. Since starting this post, I’ve decided to plant locust trees along my privacy fence next year and let them grow about 8 feet tall. Then cut the tops off. They will make a very strong substitute for the fence posts that only last about 10 years.

If one looks to outer space they will find extension agents that aren’t farmers. I looked at the syllabus at a major ag school, and ALL the major were about telling farmers what to do. There wasn’t a single course on actually doing it.

I’m confused about why you would look for a tree from outer space when there are plenty growing in your gutter.

Although I take wisdom from outside to generate ideas, the ones that are the most reliable are those that come from just watching what happens in the garden.

My goats relish autumn olive, honeysuckle, mulberry (another one of those plants from outer space that are here to take over the world), multiflora rosa, and Canadian thistle. Most of these are highly nutritious. Of course you have to like goats to appreciate invasive plants like these!

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