Featured plant: Honeysuckles

From an email by Jocie to members of the Botany Group on June 10.

Here is a bit about honeysuckles, in the genus Lonicera, that are found in our area. Keep a lookout for Utah honeysuckle! Alison found it a few years ago in the McKenzie Lake area of Strathcona Park.

In June, growth and daylight come to a peak, and wild honeysuckle vines spill over the tops of shrubs and fir trees. This high-rigger of plants is quite an acrobat, twining up tree trunks, coiling around limbs, and sending out exploratory green shoots that dangle in the air.

Tucked in a bed of blue-green leaves, clusters of bright orange flowers appear, drawing the eye upward. Trumpet-shaped with a pool of nectar at the base, they attract hummingbirds and swallowtail butterflies. 

The honeysuckle family, or Caprifoliaceae has around 890 species and 42 genera worldwide. The genus Lonicera is named after the German botanist Adam Lonitzer (1528-1586) and includes about 180 shrubs and vines found mainly in temperate zones of both hemispheres. Honeysuckles typically have opposite leaves, and a pair of leaves that are fused at the base to form a cup beneath the blooms (the botanical term for this is connate, if you care to know!). Flowers are tubular, and the plants produce inedible berries.  

Look for these 4 species of honeysuckle (the most common ones) in the genus Lonicera that are found on Vancouver Island:  

1.     Orange honeysuckle, or western trumpet (Lonicera ciliosa) is found across southern BC, but is more common west of the Cascades. The species name ciliosa refers to hairs found along the leaf margins. Unlike the creamy white, scented blooms of the English honeysuckle or woodbine (Lonicera peridymenum) which are pollinated by moths at night, orange honeysuckle is unscented, due to the fact that it is primarily pollinated by hummingbirds which are attracted to bright colours rather than scent. Children of the Saanich first nation used to enjoy sucking the sweet nectar from the base of the flowers. I remember doing this too, while waiting for the school bus!

2.    Purple honeysuckle, or hairy honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula) frequents drier habitats such as those found on Denman and Hornby Islands. The species name hispidula refers to the stiff bristles that are sometimes found on the stems. This is more of a crawling vine, and not as eye-catching as orange honeysuckle, though the purple flowers tinged with yellow are attractive in a subtler way. 

3.     Utah honeysuckle (Lonicera utahensis) is a more unusual species on Vancouver Island. It has been recorded from the Buttle Lake corridor and some of the mountains in Strathcona Park, and other scattered places on Vancouver Island. This one is easy to identify when in bloom, with twinned cream-coloured flowers that are followed by twin red berries (photo from Manning Park.)  

4.     Black twinberry (Lonicera involucrata) is a common shrub that likes to grow in moist habitats, often near streams and wetlands. It is the least honeysuckle-looking of this group of plants, as it is not a vine. It has distinctive twinned yellow flowers and shiny black berries that are quite bitter. Northwest coast peoples considered them inedible, and the Kwakwaka’wakw believed that eating the berries could cause loss of speech. 

Domestic honeysuckles, introduced from Europe, are ubiquitous in local gardens. Some of these, such as Lonicera etrusca are quite aggressive, and have spread to wild areas on parts of Vancouver Island. Care must be taken to keep these species under control! (Photo from my patio: requires frequent heavy-handed pruning!)

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