Species Profile: Japanese Honeysuckle

The smell of Japanese honeysuckle reminds me of the national flower of the Philippines, the sampagita, which bloomed around my birthday.  The fragrance of Japanese honeysuckle flowers strongly triggers memories from my youth, and luckily, I can enjoy the scent as I harvest the blossoms and participate in invasivory.

The invasive Japanese honeysuckle

Japanese honeysuckle (Photo credit John D. Byrd of Mississippi State University and USDA Plants)

My first encounter with the Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) was at my undergraduate campus, the University of California, Irvine.  The pathway that forms a circle around the campus (called “ring road”) is well landscaped and lined with manicured trees and shrubs.  Oddly enough, on my way to my plant evolution and systematics class, I noticed this innocuous-looking creeping shrub with white and yellowish flowers, an intoxicating smell similar to that of Arabian jasmine (Jasminum sambac), and at the end of its long carpel is a reward of a delicious drop of sweet honeysuckle nectar.

Distribution and ecological harm

Little did I know, this modest shrub—with its sweet smell and taste—was a dangerous invader!  Native to east Asia, and introduced to New York as an ornamental and for erosion control, the Japanese honeysuckle has been documented to have invaded most of the lower 48 states and Hawaii.   It is known to kill neighboring shrubs and saplings by girdling with its fast-growing vines;  so native plants beware, these east Asian invading creep(er)s are fragrant, silent, and deadly.

Distribution of Japanese honeysuckle in the US (green is where it is present). Image credit: EDDMapS.org

Edibility of Japanese honeysuckle

Though Japanese honeysuckle berries are interesting in their own right as a potential cause of hybrid speciation in Rhagoletis fruit flies, the berries are unfortunately unsafe for human consumption.  On the contrary, both the flowers and nectar are safe and quite tasty.  From an Invasivory standpoint, harvesting flowers is doubly beneficial because the flowers can be consumed (or simply enjoyed for its bi-lobed and bilaterally symmetrical beauty and fragrance) and it prevents that flower from setting seed and further spread (as its primary method of seed dispersal is by bird).

***Check out our recipe for Honeysuckle Simple Syrup to see how to use this fragrant flower***

Sheina

A self-proclaimed modern day nomad, I was born in the Philippines, grew up in southern California—lived all over really—and now I do research as a graduate student in Indiana and the Pacific Northwest. Professionally speaking, my current area of focus is speciation and ecological genetics and genomics, and a common theme in my various projects over the years is evolution in agricultural systems. As a recipient of a GLOBES—an interdisciplinary program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the Integrative Graduate Education, Research, and Traineeship grant (IGERT) —fellowship, I have received training which has better enabled me to view and ponder topics without my science hat on. I take great joy in eating, cooking, and experiencing nature through various activities. I love to travel and anticipate many local and international invasivore field trips! Though my research interests do not directly involve the study of invasive species, I have had my fair share of negative encounters with environmentally noxious organisms in the midst of doing field research. I carry around a machete with which to combat my gnarly “Himalayan” foes, and my machete and I have raised more than a few eyebrows. Apart from my personal vendetta against these deliciously juicy pests, I feel that there are great advantages to linking our awareness of the natural world to our culture, and Invasivore is an avenue to do just that. I feel that an increase in general knowledge of invasive species will be of great benefit to the field of invasive species and conservation biology. Knowledge and awareness will lead to action, and action will lead to results!

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