Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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The Honeysuckles
Nature Bulletin No. 526-A   April 20, 1974
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

Just the sound of the word "honeysuckle" is pleasant. It suggest drifting fragrance on a summer evening, or calls up visions of bees and hummingbirds sipping nectar. There are two main types. Vine honeysuckles climb our trellises, porches and arbors. The bush types make screens and hedges to give privacy about our homes.

Dozens of hardy foreign species and varieties of honeysuckles are cultivated in this country for ornamental purposes. As a rule they leaf out early and give us our first masses of greenery. Over a long flowering period they bear a wealth of bloom -- white, pink, red, yellow or purple, depending on the kind. The tubular flowers are followed by bright-colored berries, usually red or yellow, which hang on until late fall and are eaten by many birds. Their foliage shows no rich autumn colors but the creeping Japanese honeysuckle holds its leaves throughout the winter. Zero nights brown its leaves where it drapes, exposed, over shrubbery. On the ground, in spring, melting snow banks uncover vivid green mats of it.

This Japanese honeysuckle has escaped from cultivation and increased until it is an undesirable weed, difficult to eradicate, in many of the southern and eastern states. It thrives on roadsides, on the borders of woods, in fence rows and in moist fields where it carpets the ground or climbs over and strangles shrubs, young trees and other plants with a disorderly growth. Its very fragrant white or purplish flowers are followed by small black berries. Birds and rabbits find good winter cover in these tangles but hunters must step as high as drum majors to keep from tripping.

The Tartarian and the Morrow are two of the most commonly planted bush-type honeysuckles. They reach heights of 8 or 10 feet. Both bear clusters of white or pink flowers and yield quantities of translucent berries which may be either blood red or deep yellow. Both kinds are used in our forest preserves to form dense barriers around parking lots, as high screens along roadsides, for control of soil erosion, and to furnish bird food. Only four kinds of native honeysuckles are known in Illinois. All are rare or uncommon. Two of the most striking are vines in which a few pairs of leaves, near the tip of each branch, are united to form disks with a twig running through the center..

Typically, the first night that a honeysuckle blooms, its fragrance attracts night-flying moths, such as the sphinx, which are able to use long coiled tongues to reach its nectar. Bees, butterflies and other insects visit during the day. At first the stamens are upright and they dust pollen on the insect although the flower is not ready to receive it. On the second evening, the stamens are turned down and the blossom accepts pollen brought to it from another flower, thus insuring cross- fertilization. In some species, such as the Morrow, the flower turns yellow on the third day giving variegated flower clusters.

Columbine is no relation but some people call it honeysuckle, too.

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