This week, in the hallowed halls of the historic Old Courthouse in St. Louis, a local woodworker sued a shrub.
In an educational mock trial held Wednesday, a jury heard the case against invasive bush honeysuckle. The plant was first introduced to the U.S. from eastern Asia in the 1700s and has since spread to at least 31 states, including Missouri.
“Plaintiff” Dale Dufer said he organized the trial as a lighthearted way to draw attention to the damaging effects bush honeysuckle can have on ecosystems. The woody shrub creates dense thickets, which can crowd out native flora.
“I’ve been dealing with bush honeysuckle in my own backyard for a number of years,” said Dufer. “Once I started removing it, I realized that it created a desert essentially in my backyard. There were no baby trees, there were no bushes.”
Retired St. Louis City Circuit Court Judge Anna Forder presided over the mock trial, which featured “witnesses” specializing in plant conservation and restoration, including staff from Shaw Nature Reserve and Forest Park Forever.
Attorney Edward Heisel led the defense, arguing that many U.S. residents are immigrants, like bush honeysuckle.
“I would venture to guess that few, if any of us, can claim that our ancestors were from right here, Missouri,” Heisel said, to laughter from the audience. “Which makes me wonder if plaintiff would prefer that we, too, be removed.”
The 11-member jury disagreed, saying bush honeysuckle should be labeled as a noxious weed. Audience members cheered and waved handmade signs as Forder read the verdict.
Dufer said he hopes events like these can help people become more informed about the natural world and how they can work together to protect it.
“If you can make something like this — which is a very serious issue — fun, then people are maybe going to pay attention a little bit more,” Dufer said. “It’s like planting a seed and creating conversation.”
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