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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Update: June 2012