Bush Honeysuckles

Lonicera maackii (Amur) and Lonicera x bella (Bella)

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Illustration of bush honeysuckle leaves, flowers, fruit.
Amur bush honeysuckle, Lonicera maackii.
Paul Nelson
Invasive
Family

Caprifoliaceae (honeysuckles)

Description

Bush honeysuckles are large, upright, spreading shrubs reaching up to 15–20 feet in height, with flowers that change from white to yellow, juicy red berries, and opposite, simple leaves that green up much earlier than surrounding native vegetation.

Leaves are deciduous, opposite, simple, 1–2½ inches long, narrowly oval with the tip abruptly pointed, the margin entire (not toothed or lobed); upper surface green, lower surface pale green and fuzzy. In late autumn, leaves typically remain green and attached well after the leaves of our native trees and shrubs have fallen.

Bark is grayish brown, tight, with broad ridges and grooves.

Twigs are grayish brown, thornless; often the older branches are hollow.

Flowers May–June, fragrant, in clusters from the leaf axils, tubular, 1 inch long, slender, distinctly 2-lipped, with upper lip having 4 lobes, lower lip with 1 lobe. Petals change from white or pink to yellowish as they age.

Fruits mature in September–October; typically red berries about ¼ inch across, 2–6 seeded, in pairs in the axils of the leaves.

Size

Height: to 20 feet (Amur honeysuckle); 6–15 feet (Bella honeysuckle).

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Image of a bush honeysuckles
Bush Honeysuckles

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bush honeysuckle
Bush Honeysuckle

bush_honeysuckle.jpg

bush honeysuckle
bush honeysuckle
Habitat and conservation

An understory shrub in woodlands. Asian bush honeysuckles invade quickly and outcompete native plants. Because they leaf out so early, they steal light from native plants that need a sunny forest floor in spring in order to flower, fruit, and gather energy for the next year. Birds and small animals eat the berries and deposit the seeds elsewhere, spreading this noxious weed. Learn to identify this aggressive invader, and then kill it before it spreads more seeds elsewhere.

image of Bush Honeysuckles Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide. Primarily near urban areas, where it has escaped from cultivation, but it quickly spreads to natural habitats.

Status

Invasive. Originally from Asia; introduced for landscaping, wildlife cover, and erosion control. Probably the most aggressive exotic plant that has escaped and naturalized in urban areas, where the woodland understory is often a solid layer of green from this shrub. It tolerates many habitats and can become established nearly anywhere that birds can go. Prescribed burning, hand pulling of seedlings, cutting, and herbicide treatments are all employed to try to control this tough, weedy plant.

Human connections

Don’t think of planting this species in your yard — instead, use a native alternative such as American beautyberry, American hazelnut, buttonbush, Carolina buckthorn, elderberry or deciduous holly. Also, learn to identify bush honeysuckles and help in the fight to control their expanding numbers.

Ecosystem connections

Bush honeysuckles shade out native wildflowers and young native trees on the forest floor. They may also secrete a chemical into the soil that hinders native trees. Birds tempted to nest in the sturdy lower branches of bush honeysuckles suffer higher nest predation, being closer to the ground.