Gardening Article for Wed. April 26th 2017  Becky Emerson Carlberg Flanking both sides of the red Bridge to Understanding in the Japanese Peace Garden are two vines.   The plant to the south is robust, a determined perennial that keeps year round many of its oval blue green leaves which grow opposite of each other and [...]

Gardening Article for Wed. April 26th 2017

Coral Honeysuckle

 Becky Emerson Carlberg

Flanking both sides of the red Bridge to Understanding in the Japanese Peace Garden are two vines.   The plant to the south is robust, a determined perennial that keeps year round many of its oval blue green leaves which grow opposite of each other and produces red tube flowers brilliantly yellow inside. Hummingbirds, bees and butterflies love their nectar. The fertilized flowers develop into red berries relished by cardinals, catbirds, American robins, mockingbirds, finches, and quail.  What about the three inch stem jutting out of the ground opposite the native honeysuckle to the north of the bridge entrance?   Don't know?   Neither did the overzealous city employee who weed ate the pretty vine nearly to the ground.   It too was a native honeysuckle, but younger.   With fingers crossed, the itty bitty vine remnant might rejuvenate and come back.   The plant probably now suffers from PTSD.

The native honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), also known as trumpet or coral honeysuckle or woodbine, is a far better choice than the non-native Asian relative commonly called Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica).   I can only think of one good thing about this honeysuckle.   Who hasn't plucked a flower and carefully bitten off the little green end to get a brief taste of sweet nectar?   That is its only attribute.   It all goes downhill from here, or uphill, or into the trees.   This is one invasive vine that spreads rampantly.   Some vines have been measured at over 35 feet in length.   Go ahead.   Pull a vine.   Continue pulling and it may look as if you are uprooting an acre of soil as the roots reluctantly release themselves.   Other plants have trouble competing with this greedy voracious suikazura,  what the Japanese call it.

William Kerr brought the first plant from China to the British Kew Gardens in 1806.   In a Kentucky herbarium was found a cultivar dating from 1842.   Let's blame George Hall, plant breeder who discovered a vigorous variety in 1862.   It escaped its garden confines by the Potomac River in 1882.   In Korea, Japan and eastern China, the honeysuckle grows in thickets.   In the US it has stayed true to its preferred mode of growth and can even choke out forests once it climbs into tree canopies.   The durable vine can survive the most severe fires. It reduces species diversity and has few natural pests.   Even aphids avoid this honeysuckle.   Deer in urban areas of Ohio seemed to have developed a taste for it, but it took them over 100 years.   Hungry birds helped spread this pest across our country, much to their own demise.

Japanese honeysuckle has serious ecological consequences.   Doug Tallamy, entomologist from the University of Delaware, monitored a chickadee nest for 16 days and determined the little guys ate over 4,800 caterpillars (cankerworms, tentworms, maggots, spidersyum) before fledging. Insects contain more protein than beef and about 96% of all baby birds eat insects.   If the insects avoid certain plants, their numbers drop and fewer caterpillars and insects are available to support bird populations.

So, rip out your Japanese honeysuckles and plant native honeysuckles please.   Coral honeysuckle vines may reach 10 to 20 feet, they bloom profusely from late March into April then intermittently throughout the growing season, can take either sun or partial shade, tolerates various soils and moisture levels but does prefer good air flow to prevent powdery mildew.   The vines can function as screens for fences and covers on arbors.   The Snowberry Clearwing moth caterpillar (fairly good sized green with black dots along sides and black little tail) and Spring Azure butterfly caterpillar (small with patterned beige segments) munch on the leaves. The Clearwing moth is another 'furry' hummingbird-type moth that buzzes around at twilight (you've seen them and probably did not know they were moths) and the Spring Azure is a small afternoon blue-purple butterfly.   Both time their visits when the flowers first open.   The bumble bee is another important pollinating guest.

Nature is complicated and for every action is a reaction.   Look around you and think about your own impact.

Master Gardener plant sale, Pott. Co. OSU Extension   May 13th 2017.