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Huntley, D. 2000. Love it or loathe it, the South's sweet-smelling weed here to stay. The York Observer, May 10, pp. 1-2.

Love it or loathe it, the South's sweet-smelling weed is here to stay

The purest, tiniest taste of spring awaits you on practically any Carolinas roadside right now.


Even the word runs sweet across your tongue--conjuring images of barefoot childhood bliss.

The vine's sweet-scented flower attracts bugs, bees, hummingbirds and even kids. Children have long delighted in picking the delicate white and yellow flowers. They carefully pull the flower apart and hold the stem to their mouth for a golden lick of nectar.

Lonicera japonica (Japanese honeysuckle) began blooming this week, and its coming-out party is perhaps the most unheralded blooming in all of Southern plantdom.

Garden clubs hail the blooming of practically every bountiful flowering shrub, bush or flower, even kudzu.

But ever hear of a Honeysuckle Festival?

If azaleas and magnolias are the country club elites of the plant world, honeysuckle is the low-rent trash.

It lives anywhere it lands, and multiplies like rabbits on Viagra.

You don't have to nurse honeysuckle with daily waterings or sprinkle it with bone meal and Miracle-Gro.

You can't pull it out, stomp it out, bush hog it out; you can't even burn it out. Biologists say the only way to get rid of it is a "complete above and below ground eradication program."

My backyard crop responds best after I've run over it with my car or backed into it with my lawn mower. I even stack plywood on it and still it comes back bigger and bushier than ever. Try doing that with your heirloom roses.

I've seen it growing out of a moon-like pile of rocks covered by old tires in a junkyard near the Catawba River.

Drive practically anywhere this time of year in the Piedmont with your windows rolled down and the subtle but pungent aroma will fill your car.

Honeysuckle is a paradox of nature - its bouquet as delicate as a butterfly but its bloom gone in a few weeks. But don't be fooled, this gentle green giant is as resilient as barbed wire.

York biologist Bill Hilton Jr. winces when I mention the seemingly benign honeysuckle.

"Oh, it's an invasive species introduced in the United States before the turn of the last century," says Hilton, author of "The Piedmont Naturalist." "It's great for the birds and bees but it doesn't belong here."

Hilton, whose yard is bordered with it, goes as far as to say that some consider "junior kudzu" dangerous.

"It's a strangler, the vine is fast growing and it encircles other plants and young trees, literally choking the life out of it," he says.

There are more than a half-dozen varieties of honeysuckle in the United States, including native species such as the coral or trumpet honeysuckle. But the vast majority of the honeysuckle we have in the Piedmont is the Japanese honeysuckle.

According to plant detectives, this variety was introduced into North America in 1806 in Long Island, N.Y., where it spread south. Some specialty nurseries in the North even sell honeysuckle plants because the more severe northern winters curb its growth.

The poet Robert Frost, lamenting the temporary nature of life, wrote:

Nature's first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour
Nothing gold can stay.

Had he lived in the Carolinas, Frost might have changed his tune:

"Sweet honeysuckle never meant nobody no harm
"But to get rid of it, you gonna need a big ol' bomb."

Want to know more? Visit Bill Hilton Jr.'s Web page: www.hiltonpond.org Click on research: ecological investigations: control of foreign invasive plants.

Dan Huntley is a columnist for The York Observer, a supplement to The Charlotte Observer. Call him with story ideas at (803) 327-8508 or email dhuntley@charlotteobserver.com

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