Earthworms’ Castings

With Jean Ponzi

Thinking About Tables

Here’s a way to transform our thinking (and actions) about an invasive species – that’s a major local environmental problem.

But let’s table the solution, for a moment, and lay out the issue.

Did you know you were seeing it everywhere in earliest spring? In that first exhilarating flush of green, along all roadways. On the edges of everyone’s property. Weeks before the redbuds and dogwoods. In some sunny spaces, way earlier than daffodils.
It’s Bush Honeysuckle, our region’s most invasive plant. Lonicera maackii.
Several factors have grown this plant into a monster: the Kudzu of Missouri.

Bush honeysuckle leafs out sooner than just about anything else in our region, shading out the emerging native plants. Aggressively, it consumes water and soil nutrients. Our beneficial natives starve for light and energy. And this is only the trauma of spring.

By late summer it sprouts red berries, yoo-hooing birdies as they strive to fatten up for migration. But bush honeysuckle berries don’t nourish birds. They feed sugars with none of the native-berry fats birds need in fall to ensure their winter survival. Bush honeysuckle berries are bird soda: empty calories void of nutrition.

This does not stop birds from honeysuckle eating. What birds do not digest, they poop.
Honeysuckle seeds drop everywhere from flying snackers. Each spring the invader multiplies. The yearly cycle persists. Until roadsides and byways are sprouting almost nothing but Bush Honeysuckle.

That’s the way of invasive plants. Introduced to places with no natural competitors, they proliferate, dominate and eventually decimate the biodiverse habitat that native plants will maintain.

Bush honeysuckle is native to Asia, where it has natural controls. Brought to North America in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was touted as a perfect new plant for landscaping, wildlife cover and, even though it’s shallow-rooted, to control erosion. Recall please that in the 1800s little was known (or cared) about ecology, the science of relationships of living things, to one another and to their place.

Invasive plant point understood? Thank you. Good.

Now let’s Think About Tables.
A table is a place to put useful things: A vase of flowers, your book, a drink. You can sit around it, dine on it, enjoy sharing its space with others. A table stands ready to be of service. In any size or shape, this human invention is a useful thing.

A table is also easy to build. You simply need a top, legs (just three will support a stabile table!), some fastenings – and a few basic tools to get the parts working together, strong and level.

Think again, for a moment, about invasive honeysuckle. The older bushes have big trunks. All of them have many branches. Given how long they’ve been getting established, most are pretty hefty structures. And here’s where the transformation starts: a person can turn a problem plant into a useful table.

Bush honeysuckle wood is sturdy, and it’s easy to build with. Look for “three-legger” branching patterns. You’ll be surprised how often you’ll find them. Cut one long on both ends, and flip it over. See those basic parts of a table? At least three legs, trimmed to balance and level, will support a top. The invader turns into a table!

We’re thinking about this a lot at my house. My husband Dale is an artist and woodworker. We both love growing and learning about native plants, and planting ecology. For fun, he’s built stick tables every now and then for years. The first one I remember had legs and edgings cut from fallen branches of Sycamore – the white-bodied hallmark of Missouri stream banks – with a tray-shaped top he filled with gravel. That
Gravel Bar Table will never get stained with wet-glass rings!

Lately Dale has focused his fun-building energies around the sticks he spots and carefully cuts as we take down the bush honeysuckles that have, over time, overtaken the borders of our urban yard. He’s transforming this problem into one-of-a-kind tables – and teaching his fellow humans as he goes.

Dale’s message? You can make a table! Anyone can make a table! Stick materials are (unbelievably) abundant. Tops can be made from scrap wood, new wood, glass – all kinds of options. Your creative efforts can make a difference! Replace that invasive bush with any one of dozens of kinds of beneficial native plants. They’ll add value to your landscape, support wildlife and (really) control erosion. Invite some friends for a treat or a drink, and enjoy your table.

Think About Tables is an enterprise Dale is building to share these ideas. He’s taught some workshops, and he’s having some shows. He made up a brochure that illustrates every step of making a stick table. He has just about wiped out the old growth bush honeysuckle around our property, and taken his chainsaw to help friends whack down theirs.

We have dozens of new native bushes thriving around our yard, where only bush honeysuckle used to grow. And Dale has a troupe of delightful tables, each one different, ready to show. Ready, perhaps, to serve and inspire you!

See Dale’s work and learn more at www.woodworms.net – and join Jean Ponzi Mondays 7-8 pm for “Earthworms” enviro-conversations on FM-88 KDHX.