By Maria Cestero and Felicia LaLomia
Sean Finn is searching for intruders. He walks along a trail lined with brown, crunchy leaves and sticks, bent over at the waist, surveying the ground below him. Little white caps spike the water of the cold Long Island Sound, but on the land, long leafy, green vines wrap tight around trees and bushes. He spots one, and rips the plant out of the ground from the root.
As part of the Spring Plant Conservation Volunteer Days, Finn is one of the four volunteers helping to remove the Japanese Honeysuckle, a non-native plant threatening native species. The event is held once a month starting in March at Garvies Point Museum and Preserve to engage community members in removing different invasive Long Island plants.
“I like doing outdoor stuff like this,” Finn, a student volunteer from St. Francis College, said. “It’s a good way to find people with the same interests and take care of the ecosystems.”
Each month focuses on a different invasive plant. This month was the Japanese Honeysuckle, also called Oriental Bittersweet. The Garvies Point Museum and Preserve staff hopes getting community members involved will help them recognize the plant on Long Island and remove it.
“[The Japanese Honeysuckle] might just look like a weed to them,” Andrew Reichenbach, a museum worker, said. “But it’s really a plant that’s taking over the East Coast, so we are trying to pull it out before it gets anywhere else.”
The honeysuckle can be pulled out any time during the year. However, they choose to pull it out in March when it is most visible.
“If not removed, the [honeysuckle] seedlings will grow unchecked and eventually start to twine around and grow on nearby native woody shrubs and trees,” Dr. Andrew Frederick Senesac, a weed specialist from the Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, said.
Originating from parts of Asia, the Japanese Honeysuckle thrives in Eastern North America due to similar climates and lack of natural enemies such as insects and diseases which would inhibit its rapid growth. The plant arrived on rocks used on ballasts on trade ships. Once the cargo arrived, the rocks were thrown onto shore and any vegetation could grow onto the land.
“They grow densely so [they] can shade out seedlings,” Tamson S. Yeh, a turf specialist from the Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, said. “Plus they are allelopathic, [meaning they] put out chemicals in to the soil, and that affects growth of certain plants adversely.”
Along with the other non-native plants growing in the preserve, the Japanese Honeysuckle poses a threat to Long Island’s native plants, Reichenbach said.
“The native [plants] still live there in the ground, but they have no room to grow” Reichenbach said. “They’re dormant. So pulling out these invasives gives them room to grow”
By coming to the preserve, there is an interest in protecting it, Jennifer Paradis, a high school science teacher and volunteer at Paul D. Schreiber Senior High School High School, said.
“If you benefit from having this nature here, I think you should try to maintain it as much as possible,” she said, as she walked down the hiking trail to pull the invasive plant with her two sons. “Especially with lacking of money to do so in local parks and whatnot.”