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Japanese Honeysuckle


View my picture of Japanese honeysuckle flowers for identification. The flowers smell good.

Picture of Japanese honeysuckle with its tubular flowers in three colors.

David Beaulieu

Plant Taxonomy of Japanese Honeysuckle:

According to plant taxonomy, Japanese honeysuckle is Lonicera japonica. Technically, there is a cultivar named "Hall's" ('Halliana') that is botanically distinct from the species plant, but many treat it as synonymous with the latter, and the information that follows essentially pertains to both plants (thus I refer to the species and to the cultivar interchangeably).

Plant Type:

Japanese honeysuckle is a deciduous vine in the North, but semi-evergreen or evergreen further south. We can also classify it as a flowering vine and as an invasive plant (see below under "Caveats About Growing Japanese Honeysuckle").

These plants are, more specifically, climbers. They twist around suitable objects (for example, trees) in order to climb. Some growers choose to train them up garden arbors.

Characteristics of Japanese Honeysuckle:

Although some gardeners may find its leaves moderately attractive, there is no question as to what Japanese honeysuckle vine is grown for: namely, its blooms. These vines bear white flowers generally, but some pink coloration often finds its way in, as well. In addition, the older white flowers tend to fade to a yellowish color, even while new ones continue to appear. This means that, at any given time, it's possible for Hall's to have flowers on it of three colors: white, pink and yellow.

Homeowners may also be tempted to grow it due to its shade tolerance. Finding vines that grow well in shade can be a challenge, particularly flowering types.

These fragrant flowers are succeeded by black berries. The vine blooms in my zone-5 landscape in June. A poisonous plant, be sure to keep children away from it: the berries are toxic if eaten.

Where Japanese Honeysuckle Grows:

Japanese honeysuckle is indigenous not only to Japan but also to Korea and China. Due to its invasive nature, it is also found widely in North America, having escaped from people's gardens into the wild.

Uses in Landscaping:

Chiefly, Japanese honeysuckle vines would be specimen plants for those gardening for fragrance. Some also value them for their ability to draw wildlife (see below).

Wildlife Attracted by Japanese Honeysuckle:

The flowers attract hummingbirds. Moreover, these are plants that attract butterflies.

Avoiding Confusion:

There are many plants called "honeysuckles," including some that are not vines. For example, there is an invasive honeysuckle bush that is widespread in the Northeastern U.S., named "Morrow's honeysuckle." Other vine-form types also exist (see below for examples).

Caveats About Growing Japanese Honeysuckle:

This vine can be highly invasive. Spreading can occur either underground (via rhizomes) or above-ground (by wild birds eating the berries and depositing the seeds elsewhere).

It is listed as an invasive plant in New England (my region). Its power to spread out of control is significant mainly in the warmer parts of New England, specifically. It is a true menace in parts of the country where the foliage is evergreen and thereby more vigorous. In the South, Japanese honeysuckle grows so aggressively that its weight poses a danger to trees when it climbs into their canopies.

Frankly, in my own New England yard, I've never had a "volunteer" seedling from my Hall's Japanese honeysuckle. Sweet autumn clematis is my troublesome vine. The latter goes forth and multiplies on a biblical scale. Check with your local county extension to inquire about Japanese honeysuckle's status in your area.

A Native, Non-Invasive Alternative, Plus Other Types:

Growers in North America seeking a non-invasive alternative to Japanese honeysuckle could plant any of the various types of trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). These North American natives are generally cold-hardy to around planting zone 4. The drawback is that their flowers are not fragrant (or at least not as fragrant as those on their invasive counterpart). Grow in full sun and in average soil. Depending on type and conditions, these vines can become as tall as 15 feet high, with a maximum spread of about 1/3 of that. Prune after flowering, if necessary.

Here are examples of some of the colors and cultivars available:

  • Red: 'Alabama Crimson'
  • Yellow: 'John Clayton'
  • Orange: 'Magnifica'

Don't confuse these plants with trumpet vines, which are also hummingbird magnets.

Other types of Lonicera vines include:

  • Lonicera caprifolium
  • Lonicera x heckrottii
  • Lonicera x tellmanniana
  • Lonicera periclymenum

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