Sweet Honeysuckles

Image credit: 
Bob Travis

Photograph by Flickr user Bob Travis.

When I bought my first house, it came with a cement pond that the realtor didn’t even know about, because it was covered with honeysuckle vines. It took me months to remove all the honeysuckle, because the roots were thicker than my arm! In the US, Lonicera japonica is an invasive species that grows uncontrolled in moderate climates. It can cover buildings like kudzu, but it is also strong enough to strangle trees. However, when the blooms expose the sweet nectar inside, it can make the whole neighborhood smell like heaven.

Photograph by Flickr user Manuel M. Ramos.

There are about 180 species of honeysuckle plant, but most of those are native to Asia. Only a couple dozen belong naturally to Europe, India, and North America. The problem with honeysuckle is that travelers want to take the beautiful flowering vines away from their native habitat, and that's when they become invasive species. Honeysuckles that know their place behave much better.

Photograph by Flickr user Anita Gould.

Bell’s honeysuckle (Lonicera x bella) is a hybrid with lovely pink flowers that was cultivated from a Siberian species (Lonicera tatarica) and an Asian species (Lonicera morrowii). This beauty has a price, as Bell’s honeysuckle has become an invasive species in Wisconsin, New England, and other parts of the U.S. The seeds are spread by birds that eat the honeysuckle’s red berries. The blooms can also be white, so it is sometimes difficult to identify.

Photograph by Flickr user Emma Cooper.

The blue-berried honeysuckle (Lonicera caerulea) is one of the few honeysuckle species that produces edible fruit. It is also known as a honeyberry bush. You might not even recognize it as a honeysuckle; it grows as a shrub instead of a vine. The plants are cultivated for food in Russia and Japan.

Photograph by Bob Bors.

The berries are blue and come in varied shapes, and the fruit inside is purplish-red when the berries are ripe. The flavor is said to be similar to that of raspberries or blueberries, depending on the variety.

Photograph by Flickr user InAweofGod’sCreation.

Trumpet vine (Lonicera sempervirens) is a honeysuckle species native to the eastern United States. If conditions are right, trumpet vine can grow out of control. They are sometimes planted to compete with the invasive L. japonica. The bright red flowers attract hummingbirds to the sweet nectar inside as well as insects.

Photograph by Flickr user Paul Williams.

The gold flame honeysuckle (Lonicera x heckrottii) is a hybrid cultivar developed for its beautiful colors, which range through yellow and pink to orange, purple, and red. In warmer climates, these plants bloom all year round! Though it is a vining plant, gardeners who trim them can get them to grow like a shrub.

Photograph by Walter Siegmund.

Orange honeysuckle (Lonicera ciliosa) is native to the American West. It produces red berries that are edible, but are not widely used.

Photograph by Flickr user Hindrik Sijens.

Honeysuckles are beautiful and fragrant when they bloom, but as many species are invasive, you should always check and make sure any plants you buy are native to your country. A friend with an existing honeysuckle vine might let you take cuttings and propagate your own. If you live in an area where the common Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) grows, you can wait and they'll probably invade your yard sooner or later. But beware: if you want them in your yard, you should to give them something sturdy to grow over besides trees. And a healthy plant will send out shoots to places you may not want them to go. 

Photograph by Instructables member Falaco Soliton.

This is how you get at the honeysuckle nectar if you don’t have a hummingbird beak: Carefully pinch the bottom of the flower, not all the way through, just enough to cut the petals. Then gently pull the end, which should pull the style through. The style will scrape the nectar from the inside of the petal, and you’ll see a tiny drop of nectar, which is all sugar water with a tiny amount of fragrance. See more pictures of the process at Instructables. Keep in mind that the flowers of Lonicera japonica are also edible, in case you want to add a sweet tidbit to your salad. If you aren’t sure what type of honeysuckle you have, it’s best to avoid eating the flowers or berries, because many are toxic.

Honeysuckle almost demands a love/hate relationship, but in May and June, or whenever they bloom in your area, it's hard to hate them.

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May 29, 2014 - 3:10pm
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