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, 1–3 inches long, narrowly oval with a rounded or pointed tip, the margin entire (not toothed or lobed); upper surface green, lower surface pale green and slightly 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; the older branches are hollow.
Flowers May–June, fragrant, paired, growing from the leaf axils, tubular, 1 inch long, slender, distinctly 2-lipped, with upper lip having 4 narrow lobes, lower lip with 1 narrow 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.
To distinguish between the two invasive bush honeysuckles, note the following technical descriptions:
- Amur (L. maackii): leaf blades are tapered at the tip. The stalk below the paired flowers is 2–5 mm long (sometimes to 8 mm) (less than ¼ inch). The fruits appear sessile (stalkless). It is larger, to 20 feet tall, with leaves 2–3 inches long.
- Bella hybrids: leaf blades are rounded or broadly angled to a bluntly or sharply pointed tip, sometimes tapered abruptly to a minute, sharp point. The stalk below the paired flowers is 5–19 mm long (about ¼–¾ inch). The fruits appear noticeably stalked at maturity. These only reach 6–15 feet tall, with leaves 1–2½ inches long.
Similar species: Other native and nonnative honeysuckles that occur in Missouri are twining woody vines, not bushes.