Types of Honeysuckle

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The honeysuckles (Lonicera species) are a large group of vines and shrubs with striking trumpet-shaped, sometimes fragrant, flowers and berry-like fruits. They are widely used in gardens around the world. There are about 180 species in all, native to Europe, Asia and North America, with certain species better known in some countries than others. In general, honeysuckles like sun to part shade, are adaptable to many different types of soil, and are enthusiastic growers that often need pruning to keep them within bounds.These are some of the best-known species.

The Asian Scourge

  • Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is one of the best-known honeysuckles and has perhaps the most fragrant flowers. Unfortunately, this species ought to be banned from gardens. Beauty and perfume notwithstanding, Japanese honeysuckle is a weed. Its vining stems can grow 15 to 30 feet long and twine around themselves and everything else within reach, upsetting the balance that sustains many other plants. Even if you are a responsible gardener and prune your vine carefully to keep it within bounds, birds that eat the fruits will spread the seeds far and wide. Beautiful as it is, Japanese honeysuckle should not be planted. (Note: Amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) is also a noxious weed and should not be planted.)

Native American

  • The best-known native American honeysuckle, which grows wild in most of the eastern United States, is trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), a beautiful vine with everything to recommend it except fragrance. The slender, tube-like flowers are scarlet outside, yellow inside, and grow in clusters; the leaves grow opposite each other and sometimes join to completely circle the stem. There are red berries in summer and fall. Stems grow 10 to 12 feet long and can be trained to climb fences, trellises, along banks or through shrubs. This is a stunning vine; alas, the flowers have no scent at all.

American with Fragrance

  • Goldflame honeysuckle (Lonicera x heckrottii) is a hybrid of L. sempervirens and other species; its parentage is not known. It may be the best-looking of the climbing honeysuckles. Its red flowers change gradually to pink as they age and reveal yellow interiors. It blooms from spring into summer and continues sporadically into fall. The flowers are slightly fragrant, and the twining stems give the plant an exuberant air. Leaves remain green in winter down to 15 or 20 degrees F. Goldflame honeysuckle grows 10 to 20 feet.

Winter Bloomer

  • Lonicera fragrantissima, winter honeysuckle, native to China, is not a vine but a shrub that can grow 6 to 10 in both height and spread. It blooms in late winter when everything else is dormant, opening small, white, lemon-scented flowers that don't look like much but give a little foretaste of spring in the cold winter air. The plant is densely twiggy and bushy; it can look like a hairy mess but makes a good screen. The flowering branches can be cut and brought indoors to scent rooms in winter.

Woodbine

  • Lonicera periclymenum, or woodbine, is the European species more or less equivalent to the American L. sempervirens--a 10- to 20-foot vine that fulfills many of the same climbing functions in a garden. Woodbine is mentioned by Shakespeare in the phrase "where the woodbine twineth," but since he says it twineth around "the sweet honeysuckle," he obviously uses the name for a different vining plant. Woodbine honeysuckle has fragrant flowers that are yellowish-white with a purple tinge on the outside of the trumpet. Cultivated forms like Belgica have accentuated the purple coloring. Woodbine has red fruits in fall.

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References

  • Manual of Woody Landscape Plants; Michael A. Dirr; 1990
  • Native Alternatives to Invasive Plants; Brooklyn Botanic Garden; 2006
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