Knowing how to identify the plants on your woodlot is the gateway to so many things, from simply getting more out of walks, to improving wildlife habitat, to knowing when you have an invasive species. Leaves and bark are what we commonly focus on, but buds, fruits, and flowers can all be useful too.
To me, the most exciting part of plant ID is that plants often have a unique feature that really stands out during a particular time of year. For example, this time of year, as falls fades into winter, the invasive bush honeysuckle can’t hide.
Honeysuckle leaves stay on longer than most other plants, sometimes past Thanksgiving. That makes them easy to spot. Even in this impenetrable willow thicket along a stream in Yorktown, NY, the honeysuckle is clearly visible with its pale yellow leaves:
If we take a closer look, we’ll see that the leaves lay in opposite pairs, and their edges are smooth. The ends of the young twigs are covered in fuzz:
We’ll also see soft, light gray bark that often peels away in long strips. This is true for even the thinnest branches:
There are a few honeysuckle look-a-likes that also hold their leaves late in the season. Lilacs are an example. To tell these plants apart, look for round leaves on lilacs compared to the long, oval honeysuckle leaves. Even more distinctive, look for the large double-terminal buds at the end of each lilac twig:
The forsythia has pairs of opposite leaves with a similar shape to that of honeysuckle, but while honeysuckle has smooth leaf edges, the edges of forsythia leaves are jagged:
And finally, while not a shrub, the leaves of the oriental bittersweet vine also look like those of honeysuckle. The big giveaway here are the copious red berries with orange casings found on the bittersweet vines.
Now that you know how to identify honeysuckle in the fall, you can take advantage of a great opportunity: the chance to pull it out. As I said, honeysuckle is invasive, meaning it can take over your woodlot and harm wildlife populations. Small honeysuckles can be pulled out by hand. Larger bushes, say at chest height or greater, can be cut at ground level. They will probably resprout, but those can also be cut. For more information on ways to control invasive plants, check out these MyWoodlot activities.
Having trouble identifying a plant on your property? Try posting a photo of it in the Plant Identification thread of the MyWoodlot Forum.