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Most of PEI’s deciduous trees and shrubs are still in the process of leafing out, but one is well ahead of the game.  American Fly Honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis) has been out for a couple of weeks and is easy to spot in our still-bare woodlands.

Photo 1: American Fly Honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis) on PEI.

Honeysuckles are great examples of why it’s important to pay attention to scientific names.  As a group, these shrubs are often revered or maligned without appreciation for the diversity among them.  My favourite quote comes from a professor of horticulture in the US: “Honeysuckles are like sheep; there are too many of them, all look alike, and they are rather pedestrian. . . “.   As a botanist and former sheep farmer, I think both sheep and Honeysuckles defy generalization!


PEI has three native Honeysuckles (not too many) and they’re not particularly hard to tell apart. All have opposite leaves. American Fly Honeysuckle (shown here) has simple oval leaves with no teeth, but with fine hairs along the margin. Delicate paired flowers hang beneath the leaves and are important for early pollinators, especially Bumble Bees and moths. Later in the summer those flowers develop into paired red berries that are eaten by birds but not considered edible for humans. American Fly Honeysuckle is common in mixed woodlands across the Island.


Mountain Fly Honeysuckle (Lonicera villosa) leaves look somewhat similar but are lightly hairy all over, and I find this species more commonly in wet, boggy forests than upland areas. Its flowers turn to blue berries which are edible for both people and wildlife.  (The increasingly popular Haskap berry comes from a related but non-native edible Honeysuckle that’s grown commercially: Lonicera caerulea).


Our third native species is a different genus and so not a true Honeysuckle; it doesn’t look at all like the other two.  Northern Bush Honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera) has longer, serrated leaves that are tapered rather than oval; its flowers turn into odd looking structures called capsules that aren’t edible.


Some people associate Honeysuckles with invasive species, and there is good reason for this.  Several ornamental species were brought to North America from Asia in the 1800s and quickly became popular plants in Victorian gardens. Their ability to grow well in shade combined with bird-dispersed fruit and seeds helped Tartarian (Lonicera tartarica), Morrow’s (L. morrowii), Dwarf (L. xylosteum), Japanese (L. japonica), and Amur Honeysuckle (L. maackii) become invasive in some areas. The first three have been confirmed on PEI, giving us more species of invasive Honeysuckles than native ones.


Beware anyone who tells you something about “Honeysuckle” without being very specific as to which one.  Some are edible, some toxic, and some not well documented. Some are native, some invasive, and at least one is extensively cultivated for food. We have Honeysuckles that fall into each of these categories here on PEI untamed!

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