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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog
Hummingbird moth on honeysuckle vine on May 7, 2012
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A Tale of Two Honeysuckle Vines


Vines add vertical beauty to a garden. Fast growing honeysuckle vines are easy to grow. Their intoxicatingly wonderful floral fragrance attracts hummingbirds, bees, and hummingbird moths.

The story of these two honeysuckle vines is a lesson in using native plants. The Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) was brought here from East Asia because of its fragrant and beautiful flowers. However, it is extremely invasive and has become a real pest in much of the United States. Like its invasive cousin the bush honeysuckle (Tatarian, Morrow's or Amur), birds spread the honeysuckle vine's seeds. Thousands of dollars are spent each year removing invasive honeysuckles so that our native wildflowers, shrubs, and trees can grow again.

The better choice is one of our native honeysuckle vines. Most native honeysuckles are native to the eastern part of the United States and are not considered invasive. The trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) has scarlet-orange flowers with yellow centers that are hardy in zones 4 to 9. Though not fragrant the trumpet-shaped flowers are attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees. Yellow honeysuckle (Lonicera flava) features fragrant, orange-yellow flowers but it is only hardy in zones 5 through 8.

Newer plant selections are hybrids between native species. This cross gives the plants winter hardiness along with good flower fragrance and performance. Here are a couple of examples to try.

Dropmore Scarlet honeysuckle (Lonicera x brownii 'Dropmore Scarlet') crosses L. sempervirens with L. hirsuta. Dropmore honeysuckle produces fragrant scarlet-orange tubular flowers from early summer through mid-autumn that attract hummingbirds and bees.

Goldflame honeysuckle (Lonicera × heckrottii) crosses L. americana and L. sempervirens. It is a twining vine or small shrub that features extremely fragrant rose-pink flowers with yellow interiors.

There are other native vines to try, but beware because some also have an invasive cousin. Therefore, choose American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) over oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiulatus); American wisteria (Wisteria frutescens or macrostachya) instead of Japanese wisteria (W. floribunda) or Chinese wisteria (W. sinensis); and Peppervine (Ampelopsis arborea) as a substitute for porcelain berry (Ampeolpsis brevidendunculata).

In recent years I've replaced my Japanese honeysuckles with native honeysuckle vines. Give them a try in your yard too.



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