Japanese honeysuckle was introduced to the U.S. in the early to mid-1800's as an ornamental plant, for erosion control, and for wildlife forage and cover. Its highly fragrant flowers provide a tiny drop of honey-flavored nectar enjoyed by children. In North America, Japanese honeysuckle has few natural enemies which allows it to spread widely and out-compete native plant species. Its evergreen to semi-evergreen nature gives it an added advantage over native species in many areas. Shrubs and young trees can be killed by girdling when vines twist tightly around stems and trunks, cutting off the flow of water through the plant. Dense growths of honeysuckle covering vegetation can gradually kill plants by blocking sunlight from reaching their leaves. Vigorous root competition also helps Japanese honeysuckle spread and displace neighboring native vegetation.
Japanese honeysuckle is a perennial vine that climbs by twisting its stems around vertical structures, including limbs and trunks of shrubs and small trees. Leaves are oblong to oval, sometimes lobed, have short stalks, and occur in pairs along the stem. In southern and mid-Atlantic states, Japanese honeysuckle often remains evergreen – its leaves remain attached through the winter. In colder northern climates, the leaves may fall off after exposure to prolonged winter temperatures. Flowers are tubular, with five fused petals, white to pink, turning yellow with age, very fragrant, and occur in pairs along the stem at leaf junctures. Stems and leaves are sometimes covered with fine, soft hairs. Japanese honeysuckle blooms from late April through July and sometimes into October. Small black fruits are produced in autumn, each containing 2-3 oval to oblong, dark brown seeds about 1/4 inch across.
Japanese honeysuckle occurs across the southern U.S. from California to New England and the Great Lakes region. Escaped populations also occur in Hawaii. Severe winter temperatures and low precipitation may limit its distribution in northern latitudes and in the West, respectively.
Several effective methods of control are available for Japanese honeysuckle, including chemical and non-chemical, depending on the extent of the infestation and available time and labor.
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Forest Health Forester