The Best/Worst Flower of Summer

Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) flowers (Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org).
Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) flowers (Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org).

Every year, when I catch the sweet smell of honeysuckle on the breeze, I am immediately whisked away back to my childhood and those long, lazy summer days spent outdoors. The alluring aroma of the yellowish-white, trumpet like flowers served as a reminder that the confines of the classroom could not be further away. Still to this day, when I am outside and the scent comes across my nose it reminds me of the freedom of youth.

However, as enjoyable as it may be to stumble across a blooming honeysuckle bush, pluck a flower, pinch off the end, gently pull out the stamen and savor the tiny drop of nectar, more often than not this plant is doing more harm than good to its surrounding habitat. That is because the majority of honeysuckle we come across in clearings and in forests is the exotic and invasive Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica).

The opposite leaf arrangement of Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) (James H. Miller & Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society, Bugwood.org).
The opposite leaf arrangement of Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) (James H. Miller & Ted Bodner, Southern Weed Science Society, Bugwood.org).

Japanese honeysuckle is native to Asia and it was first introduced into the US in the early 1800’s. In the past, this evergreen to semi-evergreen, fast growing vine was commonly planted as a landscape ornamental, for wildlife habitat and for erosion control. Due to its ability to grow well in both sunny and shaded conditions and to its shiny black fruit being a favorite snack for birds, Japanese honeysuckle quickly spread throughout the Southeast and is now one of the most common invasive plants we encounter.

Japanese honeysuckle can be found in clearings, along edge habitat and in shaded forests. As it grows, it can wrap its tendrils around small saplings, girdling and killing them. Japanese honeysuckle also forms large, dense thickets that shade out the forest floor, preventing regeneration and displacing native plants. It can grow over 80 feet tall and make its way into the forest canopy, damaging tree crowns and decreasing timber value.

Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is easily spread by birds that eat the shiny, black berries that ripen every June thru March (Karan A. Rawlins, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org).
Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) is easily spread by birds that eat the shiny, black berries that ripen every June thru March (Karan A. Rawlins, University of Georgia, Bugwood.org).

To control small patches of Japanese honeysuckle it is recommended to cut the vines back to the ground during late summer and apply an undiluted 53.8% glyphosate solution to the cut ends. For larger infestations and dense thickets, it is recommended you try your best to cut the vegetation back to the ground with an electric trimmer or mower, allow the stems to re-sprout, and then spray the sprouts with a 5% glyphosate and surfactant solution. If it is not possible to cut the stems back, wait until late summer and apply the 5% glyphosate solution directly to the leaves, but be careful not to spray surrounding vegetation. If you choose to use herbicides to control your Japanese honeysuckle problem, please always follow the label’s directions and use precaution.

Native to the Southeast, the coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is a beautiful, non-invasive alternative to Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) (Clarence A. Rechenthin, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database).
Native to the Southeast, the coral honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) is a beautiful, non-invasive alternative to Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) (Photo credit: Clarence A. Rechenthin, hosted by the USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database).

If you are like me and want the enjoyment of honeysuckle in your garden, but do not want to contribute to the invasive plant problem, there are several native options suggested by NC State University’s, “Going Native” program. These include our native honeysuckle, the coral honeysuckle(Lonicera sempervirens), Carolina jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), and crossvine (Bignonia capreolata).

If you are experiencing problems on your land with Japanese honeysuckle, or any other exotic, invasive plants or pests, you can get help by contacting an experienced, registered forester, like those here at EcoForesters. We have the expertise to identify and locate any invasive infestations and we can then prescribe the best course of action for their control and eventual removal. Please contact us at info@ecoforesters.org if you have any questions about our invasive species control services.

Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) forms dense mats, impeding native plant regeneration and destroying plant diversity (Cite as: Jil Swearingen, USDI National Park Service, Bugwood.org)
Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) forms dense mats, impeding native plant regeneration and destroying plant diversity (Jil Swearingen, USDI National Park Service, Bugwood.org)