While most central Ohio residents welcome the sight of green as spring gets into full swing, not all of the leaves are a good sign.

While most central Ohio residents welcome the sight of green as spring gets into full swing, not all of the leaves are a good sign.

Spring is an easy time to spot invasive honeysuckle, a plant that has enveloped most of central Ohio and the state, according to area experts. The plant grows rapidly, blooming before native plants, with its foliage stealing their sunshine in the early months of the year. By the time other plants are blooming, honeysuckle is taking all of the sunlight, creating a dense canopy.

Karl Hoessle, an ecological restoration programmer for the city of Columbus who specializes in invasive species, said the plant affects "the entire ecosystem" of the area.

Even the plant's berries cause problems. They give birds almost no nutrients, but are attractive and tasty, Hoessle said.

"We've seen autopsies of birds who die from starvation with a full belly of these berries," he said. "It's like if you or I eat at the candy aisle in a Speedway."

In some areas, honeysuckle grows densely enough to provide covered areas that encourage homeless people to camp and that can hide criminal activity. Hoessle said he's had some communities ask him to remove it for police reasons, without having any idea of its environmental effects.

Hoessle coordinates efforts to remove honeysuckle several times a year from areas such as the watersheds of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers.

David Roseman is a board member with Friends of Alum Creek and Tributaries, which operates in the Westerville area clearing honeysuckle and other invasive species.

The work that Hoessle and Roseman do isn't easy, and it requires a lot of hands.

"It's highly laborious to take all this stuff out," Roseman said. "We have to not only take it down, but make sure honeysuckle does not regrow. It has to be ripped out by its root."

Volunteers then use herbicide on the area, hoping to prevent honeysuckle from returning.

But even those efforts cannot be enough. Honeysuckle -- originally brought to America in an effort to help erosion -- is resilient, and leaves a seed bed that can restart the plant for up to 10 years.

That doesn't mean the work of volunteers is for naught. Hoessle pointed to areas in Griggs Reservoir Park on the banks of the Scioto as an example of how much good can come from a weekend of pulling up the plant.

"You remove one plant and you can see how much space you get," he said. "It's the most rewarding thing for volunteers to remove."

Those looking for honeysuckle in their own areas can spot it by its "opposite" leaf structure, in which leaves mirror each other. The stems of the plant are hollow, unlike the native honeysuckle plant, which has become much less common.

Hoessle said the task of removing honeysuckle is daunting, as the plant already has ruined several generations of ecosystems, and a quick glance at the bank of any river shows how profound the problem is. But that doesn't mean he thinks the battle is lost.

"We're humans," he said with a laugh. "We can kill whatever we want. And nature wants to come back."