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
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.
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***