Students donate weekend time to clear invasive plant species

Ellie Phillips

Thirty biology students spent their Easter Saturday volunteering in an effort to remove and treat invasive honeysuckle plants from the Kitchel-Lindquist Dunes Preserve in Grand Haven, Mich.

“We were discussing invasive and exotic species in my BIO 109 (Plants in the World) class and thought it would be an interesting volunteer opportunity for my students to become involved in,” said Nicholas Gressick, the biology and botany professor at GVSU who led the effort. “Some extra credit was also offered.”

These points were the impetus for some of the students to go on the trip.

“It was actually really fun though,” said student Elle O’Hara. “I learned that honeysuckle isn’t supposed to be there. I didn’t know it was an invasive plant.”

Gressick has been offering this opportunity to his students for about three years, with the help of the Kitchel-Lindquist Dunes Preserve Committee Board.

“The other members of the dunes committee gave their support for bringing my students to the preserve and also supplied hot chocolate, leather gloves, water, and food,” Gressick said.

Removing the honeysuckle wasn’t an easy process; the plants had to be identified, cut with handsaws, and then treated with a glyphosate-based herbicide, similar to Roundup. As the removal process was done outside of the growing season, the potential to affect other plants was significantly decreased. Finally, the cut plants were placed in compact piles within the preserve.

“The students’ assistance in controlling the honeysuckle has allowed us to clear both open dune and high-quality interdunal wetlands and allow space for native species to colonize,” Gressick said.

The honeysuckle plant is considered invasive because it develops leaves earlier than native plants, and the resulting shade keeps sunlight from reaching the developing native plants. It also crowds out the native growth.

“(The honeysuckle plants) reproduce, and the number’s too great compared to native plants, so what it does is push them out or kill some of them, due to lack of resources and space,” said student Brendan Gordon.
The removal process was a success, with the students clearing honeysuckle from a large area of the preserve.

“We were there for like a half our, and we cleared about 20 feet by 20 feet of honeysuckle,” said Megan Lasley, another of the students involved in the process. “I thought it was cool to see a preserve and people get involved helping plant life.”
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