Early spring last year, 2018, my husband and I decided it was time to conduct some stewardship on our land. We live on 24 acres of deep forest in the river hills of the Missouri and Little Blue rivers.

We got out the loppers, chainsaws and safety gear (from chainsaw chaps and helmets to gloves and safety glasses). We chose about an acre and a half beside the driveway that had invasive bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii). We conduct stewardship from time-to-time but had not yet gone after honeysuckle.

The problem with this invasive species is that it is the first to leaf out in the spring and the last to drop its leaves in the fall. Therefore, it shades the entire forest floor throughout the whole growing season. Native grasses, forbs (flowers) and tree seedlings get shaded out and die. (Did you know acorns need sunlight to germinate?) Further, honeysuckle has a sweet smelling flower and a bright red berry that birds love to eat. As birds fly and perch, they excrete the seeds and honeysuckle spreads throughout the countryside. It’s a horrible beast!

We attacked with a vengeance every single honeysuckle bush in that area. We had to drip a small ring of herbicide, Tordon, around the cut stem so it would not grow back. We also cut harmful grapevines strangling trees, which can actually pull the crowns out of very large trees. (They’ve done it to many of our large oaks.)

It took the two of us a long nine-hour day to cut out all of the honeysuckle from one and a half acres. Twenty-three more acres to go!

At the end of the day when we stepped back and looked at our work, we could not believe what it looked like! The woods were open, spacious and beautiful! Since then, I’ve witnessed large birds flying through the area as if they didn’t have a care in the world (pileated woodpeckers, sharp-shinned hawks, crows and others). It is such a delight to walk by these woods and see the work we accomplished.

This summer I was driving down the road and stopped the car dead in its tracks and got out. There growing on the forest edge was Monarda, or bee balm (Monarda bradburiana). This is a beautiful native forb found in open woodlands in the Midwest, and I didn’t plant it! It does not have berries that birds eat, sticky seeds that stick to animal fur or seeds on downy tufts that blow in the wind. That means it probably came from a remnant seedbed from long ago. It simply grew because we opened up the woods and the sun was able to penetrate through the trees. This Earth is so incredible!

This is what stewardship is all about. Taking care of the land. Being aware and careful of what you to do plant and ensuring that it is not invasive, especially if you live in or near large tracts of land. If you live in town, or city, you can join volunteer groups to help steward city parks, national parks, or other such areas. Let’s take care of this Earth!

Lynn Youngblood is the executive director of the Blue River Watershed Association in Kansas City. Reach her at TheGreenSpace@sbcglobal.net.